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InDepth: Table Design
T
ip
InDesign’s decimal tab is smarter in
tables than it is in plain text. When
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 tables, however, purposeful use of additional colors
a decimal tab is set in a table cell,
GDP (at constant prices) -4.4 -10.9 8.8 9.0 9.2
can help indicate different categories of information.
Domestic demand (contribution to growth) -6.5 -16.9 10.4 11.1 9.4 the tab before the number that’s
Net exports (contribution to growth) 2.1 6.0 -1.5 -2.1 -0.2
Always consider context where color is concerned,
required everywhere else in InDesign
Per capita GDP ($US, thousands) 7.4 2.5 3.5 4.0 4.6
and what meaning may be implied by its presence.
is optional. These “smart” decimal tabs
Consumer prices (average) -1.1 25.9 13.4 4.4 9.6
Consumer prices (end-of-period) -1.5 41.0 3.7 6.1 12.3 (Figure 4) will align table text to the
Annual percentage changes; unless otherwise indicated
3) ALTERNATING FILLS (Table > Table Options
position of a decimal point provided
> Alternating Fills). This is one of InDesign’s best
that your paragraph alignment is flush
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
table features, and can greatly speed up table design.
GDP (at constant prices) -4.4 -10.9 8.8 9.0 9.2
left. Right-alignment will override this
But don’t rush! Subtle use of alternating color can
Domestic demand (contribution to growth) -6.5 -16.9 10.4 11.1 9.4
helpful feature.
Net exports (contribution to growth) 2.1 6.0 -1.5 -2.1 -0.2 go a long way toward differentiating between
Per capita GDP ($US, thousands) 7.4 2.5 3.5 4.0 4.6
rows and columns, and directing the eye. Avoid
Consumer prices (average) -1.1 25.9 13.4 4.4 9.6
Consumer prices (end-of-period) -1.5 41.0 3.7 6.1 12.3
jarring contrasts or colors too similar to the color
Annual percentage changes; unless otherwise indicated
of the text in your cells to ensure that alternating
fills are an aid to understanding, not an obstacle
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
GDP (at constant prices) -4.4 -10.9 8.8 9.0 9.2 (Figure 3). Be sure there’s a high contrast ratio
Domestic demand (contribution to growth) -6.5 -16.9 10.4 11.1 9.4
between the text in a table and any alternating fills .
Net exports (contribution to growth) 2.1 6.0 -1.5 -2.1 -0.2
Per capita GDP ($US, thousands) 7.4 2.5 3.5 4.0 4.6
Consumer prices (average) -1.1 25.9 13.4 4.4 9.6 4) ALIGNMENT (Type > Paragraph or use the
Consumer prices (end-of-period) -1.5 41.0 3.7 6.1 12.3
paragraph alignment buttons in the Control Panel/
Annual percentage changes; unless otherwise indicated
Palette). Alignment is critical to quickly understanding
Figure 3. Uniformity and lack of any color
how pieces of information in a table relate, and each
Figure 4. If there’s not enough room after the decimal-align tab
make the top table difficult to approach
to fit the remaining numbers in your cell, InDesign highlights the
and understand. There are no visual cues
alignment choice carries with it an implied meaning.
numbers that won’t line up properly.
for where to start or in which direction to
We most easily understand numbers (like financial
proceed. The middle table takes advantage
figures) to be larger or smaller than one another when
of Alternating Fills but uses distracting fill
colors that are too close in value to the color
they’re aligned to the right. In many fonts, figure It’s quicker to scan a column of numbers that
of the text. In the bottom table, colors and
widths vary and cause numeric misalignment. Where are decimal-aligned than left-aligned. Consistency
strokes are minimized, providing a clear
possible, use a mono-spaced font for number-heavy is always preferable when presenting numbers. If
direction for the eye and allowing the text to
rise above all other elements.
tables, or take advantage of the Tabular numeral some of the numbers in your tables have decimals,
options in OpenType fonts for better alignment. all of them should (even if it’s .0). Numbers without
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