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I'm trying to design a tabular view in which each item in a row contains about 5 pieces of basic information, the exact number doesn't matter. Some items will consist of multiple child items, which can be viewed by expanding the parent row. Each child has 3 of the 5 pieces of basic information. Some of the children will consist of multiple child items themselves, and so on. The depth of child items in practice probably won't exceed 3/4 but there's no hard limit.

My first basic design is here: enter image description here

Here's a slightly improved design, but is still confusing: enter image description here

Does anyone have any ideas on how the layout could be improved to make it more obvious what's going on in a manner that can go 4 levels deep or even more?

EDIT: To prevent the page from becoming too complicated in this solution only one sibling will be expanded at a time, so essentially meaning each level is an accordion.

  • Any reason why the user has to see the sub tables within the parent tables? What are the pros and cons? – Nicolas Hung Dec 28 '18 at 18:05
  • Are you suggesting a new page for the child items or a different table/layout within the expanded row? – lukenofurther Dec 29 '18 at 10:28
  • No, I’m asking for the pros and cons for your current design and your reasoning for choosing it. – Nicolas Hung Dec 29 '18 at 14:21
  • Pros - user can see the child items that make up the parent items without navigating to another page. Cons - could be confusing if layout not well designed. – lukenofurther Dec 31 '18 at 12:25
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It seems the answer to this question could be highly dependent on the user's workflow and efficiency.

Common practice recommends opening each child in a separate page to avoid information overload. Just opening a few children in the same page will very quickly make your page super long and overwhelming.

I recommend you test both version (new page vs in-line expansion) with users performing the task they are expected to do.

  • To prevent the page from becoming too complicated, if I use the "same page solution", I will only allow one sibling to be expanded at a time, so essentially it will be an accordion at each level. – lukenofurther Jan 2 at 1:00
  • What if you have a very extensive sibling and the user opens another parent? Wouldn’t the action of the sibling collapsing coupled with the parent opening mess with the page height and disorient the user? – Nicolas Hung Jan 2 at 14:35

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