Traditionally, applications display data sets in tabular form. Trends have been changing with Windows 7, Windows 8 and mobile design, with the display of datasets in lists or tiles, but enterprise applications have been slow to adopt.
Although tabular displays look a bit dated, they provide a lot of information and are powerful. Often times, as more attributes are available, the data is just added to the dataset. If the table has customization features that are easy to use, it may prove to be a powerful tool. But for a novice user, having access to so many attributes can be overwhelming.
List displays seemed to be a cleaner visualization of a tabular view, omitting column headers and some of the visual noise. Lists are evolving to include more icons, data visualizations as well as laying out data in a less tabular manner. List displays can be a design challenge because the designer has to select the most important information to display and determine if items should be displayed using visualizations or text. All the while making sure that the display isn’t too noisy and accentuates the most important information.
It is possible to have two or more designs for lists of a specific object type available in the application, and allow the user to select between them. This may be necessary if different personas focus on different attributes of a specific object.
Tile displays were initially used for photographs. When one of the primary identifiers of an object can be displayed visually, tile displays should be considered. Tiles allow a user to visualize and compare multiple objects. The design challenge for tiles may be more difficult than for lists.
Providing alternate visualizations of a data set is a good idea. Provide a tabular view for users who pay attention to detail, like to spend time customizing a view to see what they want, or may be interested in exported the dataset. Additionally, carefully design list or tile displays for both users who are more visual as well as for the novice user. When designing list and tile displays, be sure to focus on a clean layout.
PatternFly is currently working on usage guidelines for list and tile display patterns, please let us know your thoughts by commenting!