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Is there a best practice or convention for distinguishing two or more types of items in a long list in an elegant way? I have a search box in my app that returns two types of medical diagnosis codes. I'd like to come up with a way to show the user that one code is of type "ICD9" and one is of type "ICD10". The solutions I can think of are to label each one w/ their respective code, place an icon next to each code representing a code type (then the user somehow has to know what the icons mean), or color-code either the text, or the background (again, then the user has to know what color matches what code type).

Any suggestions?

example of list of mostly unstyled search results

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Completely unrelated, but please put pale separators between the 2-line items. Users will find it hard to determine by visual inspection alone whether the Anemia relates to the 285 figure (above it) or the 404 (below). –  Izhaki Apr 10 at 22:20
    
@Izhaki great feedback! thank you. –  Rafe Apr 11 at 13:05

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you want sex just say it. Stop leaving dirty magazines on my pillow.

No doubt, a title needs explaining:

to label each one w/ their respective code

Good idea - clear and not ambiguous.

place an icon next to each code representing a code type (then the user somehow has to know what the icons mean)

Icons are troubles as they are rarely clear and non ambiguous. Given what you are trying to code, I doubt any icon will fit here. Nor do I see how an icon will be beneficial compared to the actual codes (Say you had to code "Was entered manually", a replacement icon could save quite a bit of space, particularly if presented in a table with many columns - not your case).

Anyhow, you'd have to include a legend to the icons, but this

  • will lengthen the time they take to interpret
  • people may miss the legend
  • open more opportunities for mistakes

color-code either the text, or the background

  • 9% of males in Europe are colour-blind.
  • Colours increase visual noise and reduce the ability to control the overall colour scheme of the design.
  • Like with icons - it is an indirect solution, requiring at least 2 step decoding (what colour is it, what does the colour mean).
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