In an application I'm working on, I have several instances where I am showing a (potentially somewhat long) list of items. These items are either of "Type A Items" or "Type B Items", and I want to indicate this for each one in the list. I see two obvious ways to do this:

I can simply add a "Type" column which lists the appropriate type for each item, like this:

Item Name | Type
Foo       | A
Bar       | B
Baz       | A

Or, I can instead add a column called e.g. "Type A" and then add a checkbox for each item which is indeed of that type, like this:

Item Name | Type A
Foo       | X
Bar       |
Baz       | X

I think I like the second format better, although I can't really come up with any strong reasoning as to why it's strictly better. Perhaps it works better when there are, e.g., a LOT of "Type A" items, and a small number of "Type B" items?

Which method is better to use if the number of items of each type are approximately even, and why? Let's assume I do indeed want to show all of the items in the same table, instead of having a separate table for each type.

3 Answers 3


I prefer your first option simply because when you sort the Type column, you'll get a clear list of Type A and Type B where as the second option is harder to understand because user need to first understand what "X" indicates and make a logic jump that anything that's not marked are not type A...you see how it's already kind of confusing?


Version 1 for sure.

Version 2 suggests that everything has a shared set of properties but some items have "Type A" in addition. A missing X in the "Type A" column suggests it lacks something, not that is has something instead.

Version 1 makes it clear that Type is either A or B.

  • 1
    Good point! I hadn't thought of the fact that version 2 works better when e.g. Type B is a subset of Type A.
    – CmdrMoozy
    Feb 26, 2014 at 23:49

Personally, I would suggest using a single column and legends to identify Item Type. See image below to get a better idea. You can then even use the legend to act as filters (checkbox-like). Also, since you've one column less this way, it will be easier to accommodate your design on mobile devices as well.

enter image description here

Credit where due: The Tag like filters are developed by Mike. You can find them here.

  • I'll keep this type of design in mind for the next time I'm space constrained. It could work very nicely.
    – CmdrMoozy
    Feb 26, 2014 at 23:49

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