So in the web app I'm currently working on, I need to display a list of objects. I opted for a "friendly" view, with each object being a div. StackExchange's question list layout is actually a good example of what I mean.

A department head has added, and prioritized, making a standard table view (like an excel spreadsheet) the primary view. I'd really rather not do that, as I think they are uglier and harder to use in most cases.

Unfortunately, that's just my opinion vs his opinion and he outranks me. :(

So my question is: Is there anything out there comparing the two kinds of views and evaluating them to see the advantages/disadvantages of each?

EDIT: A couple people have mentioned A/B testing... one of the problems here is the project is overdue and at risk already, so adding dev time to figure this out is probably not a good idea. I'm hoping for some kind of generic study that says "grid views have these advantages" and one that says "friendly views have these advantages."

The only thing I can think of for table views is: More rows on screen, more familiarity to other systems, easier sorting/filtering

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    Why not implement it as s/he asked but set up some A/B testing against them, to see which layout version produces the most final conversions? That does depend on how complex the two views are, and what the actual conversion itself is, but at least that way you'd have some actual metrics to show to them that would backup which version is better than the other (of course it could determine that the Grid view itself is actually better, but you won't know with out testing).
    – JonW
    Feb 15, 2013 at 15:52
  • You can check Windows phone tile design, It could inspire you with some ideas. Feb 15, 2013 at 16:21
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    @JonW: 1) I don't know what A/B testing is 2) It's an internal application, the people who will be using it won't have a choice anyway... :)
    – CodeRedick
    Feb 15, 2013 at 17:20
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    This is a perpetual problem in our industry. Rank trumping expertise (to be fair, that's a problem in most of the corporate world regardless of the division you work in). The argument i'd consider is that the friendly view is going to be more mobile-friendly, and business is all about going mobile these days, so that's the route the company should focus on.
    – DA01
    Feb 15, 2013 at 17:37
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    If your goal is to get work done, all of the benefits you list are more important than "looking nice." Someone who is trying to pull specific information (rather than actually reading information) will prefer it. And of course, the department head might be planning on pasting your data into an excel spreadsheet and running his own reports on it.
    – Brian
    Feb 15, 2013 at 22:33

4 Answers 4


I'm not sure if you're talking about the technology of <table> or the presentation of tabular data.

In the case of technology, I think a talented developer can build either visual presentation with either div or table, so I don't see how that matters. Let's skip it.

The visual presentation of tabular data can be beautiful and usable. Particularly by emphasizing key data (object name) and deemphasizing less important data (id number) and demphasizing chart noise (do you need vertical lines? horizontal lines? how light can you make them?). Here are some beautiful tables: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/html-table-building-30-beautiful-examples-and-useful-javascripts/

Sometimes, when a high level thinker like a department head says he or she wants tables, what that means is that he or she likes a specific feature of tables. I suggest you bring a mockup of each version like @JohnGB suggests and be prepared to ask specific questions about why the stakeholder likes the grid view better--is it because you can sort all the columns? Only particular columns? Because it matches some related input or output in another piece of software?


One solution is to make one version of them both and just A/B test them (as JonW wrote). In a discussion - it's important that you back up your thoughts with hard facts (and the result from an A/B testing could be such a thing). Otherwise - make mockup images, show them and explain your case.

The problem is almost always that the customers (the ones who orders the jobs) don't focus on what the user is trying to accomplish. They rather tend to focus on a solution and prompt for that to be used. It's hard to "kill your darlings", that's why you need to have facts to present to your department head.

A side note - the human psychology works in a way that if you "process a threat" to the department heads idea (by just saying that the idea is bad) it will be tougher for you. Approach the situation by giving pros and cons to both your cases, but with the major advantages in your solution, making him/her feel like he/she was a part of the decision to use DIV tags.

Here is a short list of how to convince design customers - Convince clients

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    Also known as the 'trick him into thinking your idea was actually his idea in the first place' approach.
    – JonW
    Feb 15, 2013 at 16:15
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    I'd like to show the advantages, but that's part of my question... I'm not sure what the advantages really are. I just think my idea is better. A/B testing is probably out too. Project is already overdue and at risk... (No thanks to this guy adding requirements :( )
    – CodeRedick
    Feb 15, 2013 at 17:23
  • Well - to implement an idea based on hunches might not be a good idea to start with :) Feb 19, 2013 at 21:22

I think the most important question you need to ask yourself: is the manager representative for the users.

Basically, if it's an application that the manager and his peers will use, he might actually be right. Brian made some important notes on that.

If, on the other hand, the user base is found elsewhere (usually when targeted against customers, although this is not the case here), there might be a gap between the owner and the customer.

I don't want to get into the debate on whether one of the solutions are better than the other, but you should target the issue with owner-customer gap if you need to make an argument.

Of course, this requires you to know the targeted audience before you start arguing.


One view is not necessarily better than the other. They have different best use cases, but those are also not entirely objective.

A grid view is more visual, and arguably looks better. It is usually better at showing items when someone will primarily be looking at them visually (e.g. photos). You can include text, but here the text is secondary.

The downside to them is that the flow in looking through them is somewhat broken up as your eyes have to follow a zig-zag pattern. An illustration of this from the Android docs:

enter image description here

A list view on the other hand (what you're calling a "friendly view") is more information focused. It is easier to look through the list and see information that you are interested in, but some people would argue that it doesn't look as good.

On a smartphone, the photo / gallery app is usually a grid view, and the contacts / people app is usually a list view. These two views have been chosen based on the primary needs in each app.

So, the goal shouldn't be to convince anyone that one is better than the other. It should be to find the one that best fits the particular case.

Practically, you can put together a mockup of each one in a few minutes and use those mockups and reason to put a case forward. Simply saying that you like list views will achieve very little.

  • 2
    By "grid" I'm talking about something more like an excel spreadsheet...
    – CodeRedick
    Feb 15, 2013 at 22:10

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