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I have been trying to persuade my colleagues that viewing, sorting, and searching large lists of data in a grid are less usable than performing those actions on that data in the context where it is used or displayed.

For example, seeing a list of all of your contacts in a grid in a CRM doesn't seem to make as much sense as either searching to find the contact you're interested in, or following links from deals, verticals, activity streams, etc.

I was wondering if there is any formal research on the topic to back this up.

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2 Answers 2

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Grids are great for visual comparison of imagery. Red cars vs. blue cars etc... When comparing or looking for data, grids become very cumbersome as there's not a clear "top to bottom" order to them.

Example: On Pinterest.com, it's less important which order the items on the page are where as on Facebook, a grid doesn't work because feeds are in ascending order.

Hope this helps!

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Some research that comes to mind is selecting the best state. When entering location, most sites have a drop down list of states to choose from. They must scroll through and select their state from the list. It's better to just have an empty text field where the user can type in their state (or state abriev). The research was conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group.

So yes, searching is better than browsing. I remember reading that grids help scanability.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

    
Source: nngroup.com/articles/drop-down-menus-use-sparingly "It is much faster for users to simply type, say, "NY," than to select a state from a scrolling drop-down menu. Free-form input into fields with restricted options does require data validation on the backend, but from a usability perspective it's often the best way to go." This quote summarizes the findings in guideline #178 for e-commerce usability from nngroup.com/reports/ecommerce-user-experience –  Tim Mar 17 at 19:43

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