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I'm creating a website whose sole purpose is to show users large datasets in tables. Many of the tables have upwards of 20 columns, and I absolutely hate having horizontal scrollbars.

What are the best practices regarding the reduction of horizontal scrollbar use with large tables?

I've already implemented a toggle button that will switch between "essential" columns and all the columns when clicked. Even then, there's a lot of horizontal scrolling.

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If you have a lot of scrolling even with only "essential" columns visible, you may have no choice but to accept the scrolling. Is there any content to the left or right of your table or does it fill all the available screen real estate? –  Farray May 12 '11 at 15:15
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On further thought, this is probably more of a UI/UX problem than a graphic design issue. Have you asked over at ux.se? –  Farray May 12 '11 at 15:43
    
I will now. Thanks for the tip. –  MattSayar May 12 '11 at 17:14
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@Farray: We are actually allowing UX/UI questions as part of a larger effort to make the site wider in scope. Please see meta.graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/86/… and meta.graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/96/… –  Philip Regan May 12 '11 at 18:43
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Why are we allowing UX questions where there is already a UX SE site? If SE is going to be fragmented like this, seems important that we keep the questions in the correct buckets, no? –  DA01 May 12 '11 at 19:29

2 Answers 2

Determine what data a user needs to see at any given time.

Generally, there's data that isn't relevant, or is only relevant in the context of other data. Perhaps there's a way you can split the data up like so (hard to know without any examples :( ) to create different sections.

Some information is also able to be stacked ontop of eachother. For example, an address is an easily recognisable format, and when placed underneath a name the relationship is obvious. By moving the data in your columns around based on relationships you can attempt to minimise the columns.

Sometimes there's data that is important, but not important at a glance, so might be better displayed as a second line of data underneath the first row of data, that is made visible by selecting the row.

That said, an accurate answer to improve usability is hard to get without an example. Check http://ux.stackexchange.com as there's a wealth of information regarding data formatting and display.

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I think you need to determine if it's really a problem to those who will use the system. How are they using thise tables? "I absolutely hate having horizontal scrollbars" doesn't seem to be sufficient justification.

I'm looking at Excel sheets with a similar number of columns right now. I've 'frozen' the left-most column so the row headers are always visible. I am then happy to scroll left and right to view the other columns, given that they all have approximately the same importance and I may need to view any one of them at any time.

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