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Right now I am designing a new feature for my site. The layout is table-based. Let's call each pick that you see a "pick container." The way that I see it, each pick container has to be a different size because the data is what determines the number of rows in the container. So the design is a function of the data, to a degree. However, does the fact that each pick container can be a different size cause any UX issues? Do users get confused by lack of consistency? Do I try to force each container to be the same size with some sort of contrived design spacer? Your thoughts and impressions would be much appreciated.

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Could you clarify if the tables are complex tables (multi rows inside) tagged for accessibility (scope, ID's, etc.), or if each row is a single row using css/ul's/etc? It matters for usability. Thanks. – Susan R Jun 4 '11 at 17:18
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Visually, those look just fine. The variable rows won't have much affect on scanability. The columns are consistent which is key.

As for Susan's comment, she's correct. Tables need a lot of additional markup if you are aiming for accessibility (Which you should be). Alas, from my experience, screen readers can't deal with complex tables very well no matter how appropriate your markup is. That shouldn't stop you from going forward and still building the tables with the appropriate markup, of course.

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I guess I don't see the 'lots of markup' really. Afaik a rowspan would suffice and would keep the linear structure intact. – Inca Jun 5 '11 at 15:54
Inca...for proper accessible data tables, you'll want to make sure you're using the full spectrum of attributes: scope, headers, id, colgroup, tfoot, theader, tbody, etc. Certainly doable and not a huge task to build, but not everyone remembers to use them. Does THIS table need all of them? Probably not. I agree with you that rowspan might go a long way. – DA01 Jun 5 '11 at 18:27
I feel the 'accessibility'-concept has been hijacked a bit. To me, accessible means that people are being able to access the contents and more importantly its meaning. Those properties are just tools, neither necessary nor sufficient but helpful. Only they have become checkable guidelines (great for simple proofing). The downside of that is that people erroneously think a jumble of nested divs is more accessible because it doesn't require those properties. It's like inserting stairs so you can provide a ramp and call yourself 'accessible', while you were on street level already. – Inca Jun 6 '11 at 17:14
I definitely agree that proper accessibility is more about following the spirit of it than a hard-coded check list. Divs would definitely be less useful than a table in this situation. That said, it is a complex table, and screen readers don't always have great track records with them. The extra attributes can help in certain situations. – DA01 Jun 6 '11 at 17:33

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