A physical device has a certain amount of input and output pins in a block formation. Depending on which pins are active at any point in time, the device is in a certain action mode.

Currently, the information about which pins activates which action mode is shown in several (larger) tables similar to this:

Action mode Pin 1 Pin 2 Pin 3 Pin 4
Go 1 X 0 n.c.
Stop 0 0 0 n.c.
Reverse 1 X 1 n.c.


  • '1' is an active pin,
  • '0' is an inactive pin
  • 'X' denotes that the pin could be active or inactive (to my understanding, it is not considered for this action mode but could be important for other modes)
  • 'n.c.' denotes that the pin is not considered for this table at all, but could be relevant in other tables. It is included presumably to not change the order/size of the tables when there are still the same pins, just different action mode assignments.

Each table has around ~10-15 action modes (rows) and ~10 pins (columns).

Unfortunately, in its current state, even trained employees who are very familiar with the device functions are having trouble understanding and retaining the table's implications. The information of these tables needs to be put into the device's user manual however, and should be moderately understandable for customers or at the very least to the company's trained employees so they can provide support.

I have considered so far:

  • changing the terminology of the technical almost-binary (1/0/X) to something more natural but in a larger table, I fear that a bunch of "Active", "Inactive" and "Not considered" (or variations thereof) is just more visual noise
  • adding a visualization of the position of active/inactive/etc. pins in reference to the actual physical layout of the device. Due to the amount of action modes however, I fear this could be an overload of information.


What would be an easier to understand static visualization method for this data, if there is such a thing?

Note: I am not asking for a way to put several tables' worth of data into one graphic. The user manual should contain one graphic per table which ideally is visibly different from another table's visualization.

PS: I apologize if this question is not on-topic for this site. In this case, I would appreciate being pointed to a better fit.

  • Is "n.c." really a necessary state? Why not just leave that row/column out? Or just use the same state as the "X" if there isn't a whole empty row/column? Nov 6, 2023 at 19:17
  • @ZachSaucier You're right, 'X' and 'n.c.' could be considered the same state within each table separately. As stated within my original question, I assume the columns weren't left out before because that way there would be less confusion about a different amount of pins per table when they're all referencing the same device. (I was not involved in the creation of the data table as a visualization tool so I can only assume)
    – Tracy
    Nov 7, 2023 at 7:02

2 Answers 2


What about using colors? Or at least some shades.

enter image description here

Or something like the old "jumpers" diagrams.

enter image description here

  • Using colors is good. The "jumpers" diagram is a bit much and kinda confusing for something like this I think Nov 6, 2023 at 19:18
  • I did a very clamped version. It can be simplified and stylized with a proper proportion.
    – Rafael
    Nov 6, 2023 at 21:57
  • @Rafael Thank you for your ideas! Colours do seem like a good idea here, I suppose I was focusing a lot on finding another visualization rather than working with what I have.
    – Tracy
    Nov 7, 2023 at 6:57

What I think you are describing is what is commonly and very generally called DIP Switches (Dual Inline Package). You can search info on those. They can have just 2 positions (binary- on or off) or 3 or more positions.

I also agree with the comment that having 4 positions for each Pin (Switch) adds confusion and is not really necessary. 3 positions would simplify things a great deal. I would use On/ Neutral/ and Off.

Now, as far as the Graphic representation for your manual (which is the part of this questions people here would be way more interested in)- Think visual and not text and/ or numbers. Visual memory is pattern based and more easily recognizable. Words and numbers require more thinking to be able to remember. You can make a visual map of the pin positions to perform different functions. This could (should) be similarly colored on the actual Pin part which people would be moving. Most people (across the whole world) would find the identification and positioning easier to understand.

Here is a simple diagram to show how I would go about it for a 3 position Pin (Switch):

enter image description here

  • You're right, the pins are similar to DIP switches, I'll read up more on that use case. I also think your diagram example helps a lot with easier understanding as well, though I might supplement the colours with checkmark/cross icons or something similar to have colour not be the only differentiation between a "must be on" and "must be off" (as we have known colourblind employees who have to work with it, nevermind unknown customers) Thank you for your feedback!
    – Tracy
    Nov 7, 2023 at 7:41

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