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The following picture shows some statistics. Here they bold the data, not the label.

Example of bolded data

Which is better? Does it depend on the information being shown?

What if you have a header on a report with some attributes? Like this:

Project: Project 123
Phase: Phase ABC
Department: Department XYZ

Should you bold the labels or the information in this case?

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5 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

It depends. It depends mainly on how users will be locating the data they are interested in.


Numerical Stats in a Row

If the page is repeating the same stats groupings in the same order, then positional memory will be used, and the numbers themselves also cue the reader in to positioning - Best bowling 5/45 has a different form to Economy Rate 1.51 and people will use that cue. When positional memory is being used bold numbers and quiet labels are good. The user is, for example, comparing bowling stats of multiple players.


Header to a Report:

In a written report, and by extension the same in web format, it is usually better to bold the labels in a header:

Project: Project 123
Phase: Phase ABC
Department: Department XYZ

Positional memory within the group is less relied on. The typical activity is not scanning multiple reports to find what phase each one relates to or compare project titles, rather it's having read one report, checking what phase that one report relates to or exactly what the project title was. The scanning is interspersed with a different activity of long duration. Finding the header information at all is the main scanning.

Also a factor for bold labels - Longer lists defeat positional cuing more, and bias towards embolding the labels. So a rule of thumb:

Long lists (>5 items) seen rarely (<10 a month): Bold the label.
Short lists (<5 items) seen frequently (>10 a month): Bold the information

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I think it very much depends on how your content is going to be used.

Where the point of the data is to allow a comparison (Which project is the furtherest along, and by how much?), bolding the relevant data will let a user focus on that more easily.

Similarly, when the point of the data is to allow a lookup of information (which department do Rachel, John, and Steve work in?), bolding the relevant labels will allow a user to narrow down on the data they're searching for.

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Considering your content is like most where the user will be reading the data more often.

For example consider where your eyes go first:

-

Bowling Pins: 32

and now the opposite:

-

Bowling Pins: 32

-

They user will come to the page for the first time and: See the bold data, than look at what they represent.

The user will return to look up the data and: They will look at the bold data remember which data means and will more quickly complete what they were doing.

The other way around (bolding the label) will make the first time a little easier but the subsequent times will require an extra mental step of looking at the label, then the number.

So it depends on what you want for the users, a quick first look or a quick stat look up.

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For horizontal statistics, I find it better to bold the label, so that the user can easily find the statistic they are looking for, but for vertically centered like those pictured, it could be done either or. –  Nick Bedford Jun 7 '11 at 1:14
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Like most design decisions context is key.

If this is a dashboard like situation where a visual hierarchy needs to be formed, then my first guess would be to bold the data. Like jonshariat mentioned, this will make it easier for users to scan the page and find the data they are looking for. On the other hand, if this is in a table or in an area where there is a ton of data present, you may want to bold the label because bolding the data will do no good if everything is bold.

Best way is to design both, show them to people, get feedback. Then use your judgement as to which direction you want to go.

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To me it feels better to bold the label.

Here is why: In the picture you have added my eye attracts to the number, which on it's own doesn't tell me very much.

So i get the idea that a bold label will probably attract the eye to the label first, and automatically you will read the number below it.

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