If you have ever used any kind of business software you will be familiar with data being displayed in the form of lists, tables or grids. Spreadsheets have penetrated just about every business function and nearly everyone knows how to instinctively use a grid. However we're not fans....
Most grids are just too one dimensional
. Bombarding the user with rows and rows of text and numbers is just so 20th Century. Isn't it about time that software designers moved on a bit? There will always be users who demand a grid or an export to Excel button, which is fine, but we always try to offer alternatives for more progressive users. Most people often make the mistake of requesting more and more columns being crammed onto the screen and wind up with a pointless overload of data that is practically useless to most users.
Much better is to display data in the form of visual tools that contextually relate to how the data is intended to be consumed. This may take the form of graphs, dashboards and other visual tools which when well designed help users to work more efficiently and effectively. Take a look at the following two screen shots which are two alternative views of the same reliability data in our new eTechlog application.
The traditional grid is improved by conditional formatting which aids management by exception.
However the same data has a greater impact when displayed as a map.
In this case we've retained the conditional formatting by using coloured pin-point icons to highlight problematic locations. Instead of overloading the user with all the data we allow locations to be clicked to reveal the details. Which version of the same data would your users prefer to use? In our application, if you're not a fan of the map you can always switch to the traditional grid.
Grids or lists themselves can be improved greatly with a few simple enhancements. The use of conditional formatting, icons and auto-refreshing can improve usability and user experience. Apps like Clear for iPhone
have raised the bar for user expectations when it comes to re-imagining something as mundane as a list or a grid.
Clear for iPhone by RealMac Software
Our own application YBoard for iPad
attempts to add a second dimension to a simple note taking app. Notes can be made on sticky notes and then placed anywhere on a blank canvas thus allowing users to organise their notes and lists in two dimensions rather than just one.
YBoard for iPad by Conduce Software
As business software becomes more and more consumerised users will become less and less reliant on traditional concepts such as grids and demand more imaginative solutions to problems. Hopefully most progressive software designers have already recognised this and we have seen the beginning of the end of the lists and grids that we all know and hate....
Etechlog Sneak Peek
The New AircraftIT Columnist
Author: Paul Saunders