Tables and some of their design characteristics

Among other characteristics, tables vary by the numbers of rows and columns, background shading, borders of cells, and column justification. The sample discussed here offers some of the variations.

Presenting its respondent profile, Fulbright Jaworski Lit 2013 [pg. 4] set up a straightforward four-row-by-four-column table. Unlike most tables, this one has a topic statement directly over the header row. The header row applies a crimson background and uses all capital letters. The three rows below have zebra striping with a gradient of color lightest in the middle. The data columns are centered and no cells have border lines.

The next table, from Dykema Gossett MA 2016 [pg. 13], has one fewer column than the Fulbright table but one more row. The top row is not a header as it restates the question asked on the survey. Both the question and the header row show a light blue shading. Another difference is that the data columns are left justified, not centered. Lastly, the table’s unsightly outline and cell borders stand out.

In the following table from King Spalding ClaimsProfs 2016 [pg. 13], the six rows (including the header) are followed by a gap and then a row for averages. Tables can always add marginal figures.

Note that there are no boundary lines around this table, the cell borders are faint, and the numbers are right justified under the headers. To emphasize it, the average row has a darker shaded background.

This table illustrates how hard it is to detect changes in complex data as compared to presenting the data in a chart. The table has the advantage of giving precise numbers, but it takes work to spot the highs and lows in the columns or to perceive trends over the five-year period.

The table from Allen Overy Innovative 2012 [pg. 53] presents only text, not data. The firm chose an unusual color scheme of green against the entire page’s background of gray. Like the King Spalding table just above, this one dispenses with table outlines but unlike it inserts white cell borders.

A final example, from Berwin Leighton ArbDiversity 2016 [pg. 7], has ten rows (six are omitted here) and six columns, the largest array of this sample. As is typical, the table colors the header differently than the rest of the rows, which are zebra-striped green. The data are left justified and no border outlines clutter the table.

Good practices for table design we suggest from this set include:

  1. Don’t outline the table, since borders add nothing but ink.
  2. Center the data in the column, to avoid crowding it against a border.
  3. Use zebra striping with light shading, to distinguish rows
  4. Have no borders around cells, or unobtrusive borders, and no table outline, to focus readers on the content, not the aesthetics.

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