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Table Design Principles
Table Design Principles
Table design is one of the most underestimated endeavors in Excel reporting. How a table is
designed has a direct effect on how well an audience absorbs and interprets the data in that table.
Unfortunately, the act of putting a table of data together for consumption is treated trivially by most.
Take, for example, the table illustrated in Figure 2-1. This table is similar to many found in Excel
reports. The thick borders, the different colors, and the poorly formatted numbers are all unfortunate
trademarks of most tables that come from the average Excel analyst.
Figure 2-1: A poorly designed table.
Throughout this chapter, you’ll improve upon this table, applying these four basic design principles.
➤ Use colors sparingly, reserving them only for information about key data points.
➤ De-emphasize borders by using the natural white space between your components to
partition your dashboard.
➤ Use effective number formatting to avoid inundating your table with too much ink.
➤ Subdue your labels and headers.
Use colors sparingly
Color is most often used to separate the various sections of a table. The basic idea is that the colors
applied to a table suggest the relationships among the rows and columns. The problem is that colors
often distract and draw attention away from the important data. In addition, printed tables with
dark-colored cells are notoriously difficult to read (especially when printed on black and white
printers). They’re also hard on the toner budget, if that holds any importance to you.
In general, you should use colors sparingly; reserve them for providing information about key data
points. The headers, labels, and natural structure of your table are more than enough to guide your
audience. There’s no real need to add a layer of color to demark rows and columns.
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