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I guess this question could be quite subjective, with many dependencies (frequency of use, literacy, data complexity, use cases etc). But let's step back and question what research/ evidence exists to provide us with a framework.

Regardless of the circumstances or context, is there a broader framework that helps us determine what a reasonable level of information density is?

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The most general answer of course is, "it depends." Who are the people using the product? What are they trying to achieve? Are they using it on a desktop or mobile phone? Are they using a mouse, touch screen, or keyboard to navigate (or other assistive technologies)? Is there flexibility for them to increase or reduce the density to what suits them?

Here is an interesting article I found on UX Collective "How white space killed an enterprise app (and why data density matters)" written by Christie Lenneville and Patrick Deuley.

Everything that article says is a good point and says it better than I could say, so I recommend checking it out.

You also need to ensure accessibility for those with vision, mobility, and/or cognitive considerations. Make sure everything is keyboard accessible. Make sure tables are marked up semantically and read correctly by a screen-reader. Make sure color contrast is compliant. Make sure text and content reflows so nothing overlaps or gets cut off when users zoom in or resize their screen. Read up on WCAG 2.2 for specifications on making sure content is readable and accessible no matter how dense or sparse.

And do thorough user interviews/observations and usability testing. If this is a redesign, have the users perform tasks on the previous/current version and time it. Then have them perform the same task in the redesign/prototype and time it. Did it save time? Did it prevent costly errors? Did it improve retention or conversions?

I think the best framework is around the UX research, though I know that doesn't provide the kind of specific answer you were looking for. The most reasonable density is the one that allows people to do complete their task(s) most efficiently and without error, frustration, or the need for home-made workarounds.

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  • Thanks, I like the idea of benchmarking the designs against each other. The link you've shared talks about the failure of a redesign, but it doesn't go into further specifics of what finally worked for them. Appreciate the answer! – Adnan Khan Mar 28 at 1:21
  • I would say the key takeaway was that they didn't do the appropriate user research. The first step of the design process should have been user interviews and observations resulting in defined problem statements and goals. And then users should have been consulted through all phases of design to validate/invalidate design decisions and allow the design to evolve. Come to think of it, the title of that article really should have been "How neglecting user research killed an enterprise app..." – MRL Mar 29 at 14:51

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