Prometheus thinks a lot about information design when we create tools for our clients. To us, good design means presenting data in a way that makes it easy to analyze and understand.
We highly recommend Edward Tufte’s books to anyone who creates data displays (if you’re interested, I’d start with the first). Tufte makes good points about the display of tables and grids. Here’s an example of what he might consider poor information design:
The heavy black grid distracts from the data being presented–the content should carry more relative weight. A lighter grid is less noticeable but still provides the needed structure. More importantly, it makes the data stand out:
For designing elements such as a grid, it’s useful to think about the smallest effective difference. In other words, what is the least amount of formatting that will achieve our design goal? Along those lines, it’s always worth asking if a grid is necessary at all. Is it harder to interpret the data when the grid is removed completely?
In many cases, the content itself provides a clear structure for a display. It’s even possible to achieve the function of the grid by essentially erasing it from a display. For example, check out this bar chart, where the y-axis grid is represented in white:
While there are many approaches to the design of data displays, our goal is always the same: present the data cleanly and efficiently, in a way that makes it easy to consume. Don’t let design get in the way of analysis.