Designing better comparison tables

02Nov10

While sending a package with a well-known delivery service, I came across a comparison table that described various add-on services that they offer. The table looked simple enough: there was one column for the name of the service, and another column labeled “Fee?”. I would have expected the second column to have a checkmark, “X”, or Yes/No text to indicate whether the particular service involved a fee. However, there were only two possible values in the column: a checkmark (or maybe it was an “X”), and the word “Free”.

It’s not hard to see the potential for confusion. As you read down the table, your mind is trying to answer the question of “Is there a fee for this service?” But instead of finding a yes/no answer (either with those words or a boolean like a checkmark or “X”), some of the lines contain the word “Free”. Sure, that means there is no fee for the particular service, but it takes a lot of extra mental cycles to process the lack of a yes/no answer, and then differentiate two words (“Fee” and “Free”) that are only one letter apart.

The right approach for a comparison table is to keep things simple. For each column, you should stick to a yes/no structure, or simple values like size, weight, and color that are easily processed by the reader. In addition, try to avoid using words that are only a single letter apart, like in the “Fee” versus “Free” example that I described. By providing a straightforward structure, your comparison table will be easier for customers to understand. In turn, they’ll be more likely to select your product over a competitor’s, while choosing the right product and service options for their needs.



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