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From time to time I have to write a small report and usually I end up having to present data in a table. Everytime I end up thinking that a table is an ugly looking rectangular box I wish I could leave out.

I don't have any degree in design, but I would like to know how I can make my tables look more smooth and blend better into the document. This has nothing to do with using HTML tables for layout. It is the aesthetically appearance of tables in text.

I know its subjective, but if you have seen or created a set of tables in a document somewhere, which you think looks good, it could be nice to see them and maybe get some inspiration from there.

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What program are you using? that makes a HUGE difference in the answers we can give you. InDesign has about a thousand more tools than Word does for making things look nice. –  Lauren Ipsum May 14 '13 at 14:08
    
At the moment, I'm using MS Word 2010. But I normally try to visualise what I want and then tweak all I can to get the correct result using the program at hand. –  Chau May 14 '13 at 19:55
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Just a few rules I follow myself...

  • Always zebra stripe, never border
  • Always different appearing header rows

The problem with most tables is, well, they look tabular. :) I try and diminish the appearance of a rectangle as much as possible and favor horizontals so they are more in line with simple text.

In addition, tabular data can often be reflected in a chart rather than a table. This is especially true of the table when it is small. So, when possible, I'll change the data to more of a graphic using a pie chart or some other chart rather than a boring old table. Of course, this depends greatly on the complexity of the data.

vs.

Ultimately, tables are merely a method to visually organize data. There are often many ways the data can be organized. "Infographics" are all about organizing tabular data into a visually appealing format. There's an unlimited way you can organize the data into an infographic (samples).

There's a question here which maybe helpful discussing immediate vs. sequential data interpretation. Regardless of my efforts to do so, I can't seem to find that question.

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Further thoughts: the typical spreadsheets-style lines for table cells are more useful for entering data than reading, it; the alternating row colors are useful for keeping place as you scan a line, but are not particularly helpful for smaller numbers of columns. –  horatio May 14 '13 at 15:19
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