Join Nigel French for an in-depth discussion in this video Five tips to better tables, part of Type Tips Weekly.
- [Instructor] This week's Type Tip is all about tables, and I have five common sense tips for working with tables. Number one, break out of data prison. Number two, use a condensed font. Number three, use Tabular Lining numbers. Number four, emphasize the reading direction. And finally, be flexible about the alignment. So let's see how these work. So here I have my data prison table, and this is what you get when you convert text to a table in InDesign.
You have a table border, you have row strokes, and you have column strokes. Let's get rid of them and just reintroduce only those that are necessary. I'll double-click into my table, select the table by clicking at top left, and then come to my preview proxy on my control panel. I need to make sure that all of these lines are blue. And if they're not, you can triple-click to make them all blue. So they're all now being affected, and I'm going to make them None.
Right, having removed them, let's just see how that looks, I'm now going to reintroduce three row strokes. And the first will be below row number one, just to separate the header row. So I'll select just this row, come to my preview proxy, triple-click to make sure that nothing is selected, click back on that to make sure that the bottom row stroke is now going to be affected. I'll change that to black and choose a weight of 1/2 a point.
I'll now choose row number four, and this will signify that the top four teams will qualify to play in Europe in the next season. So I need to have that be black, and I'll use a dashed style. Add the same weight, 1/2 a point. Now I'll come down to the bottom, and row 18, let's select it, top row stroke, and 1/2 point, black, dashed once again.
And this will signify that the bottom three teams will be relegated. So that's point number one. Break out of data prison and just use your row strokes and column strokes as needed. Point number two is use a condensed font. I'm currently using a regular width of font, and that means that because I have some columns that contain quite a lot of text, my data is actually too far away from each other to be easily read.
So I'm both going to switch to using a condensed font and abbreviating where possible. Now, my audience is going to know what these abbreviations mean. So we don't want anything extraneous in the table. Abbreviate where possible. But at the same time, don't abbreviate unnecessarily. Next, I'm gonna switch to using a condensed font.
So now let me just edit my paragraph style that is applied to this. I'll come to my Basic Character Formats and choose the condensed version of the font. I am gonna increase the size, though, and I am gonna increase the leading. I'll click OK. Increasing the size and leading means that I have become overset, so that's something I need to watch out for. I'll just press Command + Option + C or Control + Alt + C to fit my frame to my content.
I'll also edit the bold style to make sure that it's using the condensed version. And for this next step, I'm gonna switch to my selection tool, press W so that I can see my table borders. I am going to reduce the width of my table. It no longer needs to be as wide as it is, and bringing the data closer together will make it more readable. So I will select the whole table, hold down my Shift key, and drag from the right hand column border.
I'm gonna go as far as I can. And that's a little bit too far. I now have overset text in column number one. So let's increase the width of column number one. I will select all of these columns and reduce their width further. And then I'll just come to my Table menu and make sure that I am distributing these columns evenly. So that's my second point.
Let's make it more condensed. Use a condensed font, abbreviate where possible, and make your columns no wider than they need to be. Point number three is use Tabular Lining numbers. I'm currently using the opposite of that. I'm using Proportional Oldstyle numbers. And Proportional Oldstyle numbers will be of different sizes, and they will also be of different widths so that they will not align vertically as one scans down the column.
You can see that the number 30 is wider than the number 31. So what I want to do here is edit the style and come to my OpenType Features. Now, this assumes that you are using an OpenType font that has different numbering styles available. If you don't, the most likely default style for your font will be Tabular Lining, but that's not a given. So you wanna make sure that you are using a font that has Tabular Lining numbers.
So that's point number three. Using Tabular Lining numbers. Point number four is emphasize the reading direction. Now, if you're working with a bus or train timetable, the reading direction is probably going to be vertical. You want to start at your source and figure out what time your bus or train is leaving and then come down to your destination and see what time it arrives there. But in the case of this table, the reading direction is horizontal.
We want to be able to scan along the row to see the stats for each team. So I am going to select the table, come to the Table menu, Table Options, and choose Alternating Fills. For Alternating Pattern, I'll switch that to Every Other Row. And I'll change the color, in this case to cyan with a tint of 20%, and I will skip the first row.
So I'm emphasizing the reading direction with this Alternating Fill pattern. My fifth and final point is about being flexible with the alignment of text within the cells. And I'm gonna start out here by applying my Table Bold style, which is centered. But I actually want this cell to be left aligned and this cell to be right aligned.
I want this column to be right aligned, because I have single and two digit numbers. And then all of the numbers will become centered. Now, we do have single digit numbers and two digit numbers, and they're centering and I think that's fine. But if you did want to make the single digit numbers align beneath the double digit numbers, you could, and it would be a lot of work to do this. Although you could apply a GREP Find/Change to automate it.
You could come and from the Type menu, Insert White Space, add a Figure Space. And that Figure Space is the exact width of your Tabular Lining numbers. But I don't think that's necessary. So just to recap, my five tips for better tables. Break out of the data prison. Use row strokes and column strokes only as needed. Use a condensed typeface and abbreviate where possible.
Make sure you're using Tabular Lining numbers. Emphasize the reading direction with alternating fills. And be flexible about the alignment of the text.