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Do Zebra Stripes Actually Help?

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the they-seem-to-help-the-zebras dept.

GUI 234

RyoShin writes "A List Apart, an excellent resource for web development and related aesthetics, has put together an article based on original research by Jessica Enders into 'zebra striping.' From the article: 'Zebra striping [coloring alternate rows] is used when data is presented in an essentially tabular form. The user of that table will be looking for one or more data points. Their aim is to get the right points and get them as quickly as possible. Therefore, if we set a task that uses a table, and zebra striping does make things easier, then we would expect to see improvements in two things: accuracy and speed.' The conclusion of the peer reviewed paper? It's a wash. Striped tables offered only a slight increase in accuracy and speed overall. The article notes a few other benefits to using Zebra striping, so it's all up to the individual."

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It looks nice (2, Interesting)

dintech (998802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311870)

Although it might not provide much extra accuracy, it does make for a nicer looking GUI. That counts for something in todays widget driven environment...

Re:It looks nice (4, Informative)

couchslug (175151) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311932)

If your are PRINTING a checklist for use outdoors, at night, etc striped tables IMO work MUCH better for checklists. In the Air Force we used them for generation checklists (scan down task lists at the side vs tail
numbers at the top) to fill in times.

Re:It looks nice (5, Insightful)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312028)

Personally, I think that they are done best when striped in sets of three, makes following the line even easier. But that's not my point. Apparently the article says that it offers only minor improvements in accuracy and speed. That's not a wash, that's a minor improvement. Considering the virtually no effort to achieve the minor improvement, I'd call that a significant benefit.

Re:It looks nice (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312366)

Actually, I tend to use sets of 5, if the table's big enough. It's very easy to see that your in the second row/column from the edge of the stripe.

Also, if the table gets really big, and it's difficult to identify where you are in the table, I start alternating between sets of 5 and sets of three - usually 5/5/3. Again, this seems to help (At least it helps me) with visual placement.

IIRC I first saw this in the AD&D manuals, except they always alternated 1/3 or 3/5 on single-page tables, which made it visually confusing, again.

Re:It looks nice (2, Insightful)

MythoBeast (54294) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312448)

I'm in agreement with the parent post. Highlighting every other line doesn't actually produce much difference between the highlighted lines and the unhighlighted ones. There's a minor difference between the two, and you can double check to the front of the line that you're looking at a line of the right color, but the regular spacing between the two actually eliminates the ability to use the striping as a horizontal guide for the eye.

Shading in every third line actually provides the eye a stronger guideline. In the description of the study, they don't test that. I think that's a tremendous oversight on their part. It really seems like they did the study to prove a point.

Re:It looks nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312528)

I agree completely, using sets of three works very well. It is easy to remember if the row you are looking at is the top/middle/bottom of stripe and the diwer stripes make it easier to track accross a large table. Ever since I saw it in the 2nd edition D&D rule books it has been my preferred way to do striped tables. I annoys me how few programs actually support this.

Re:It looks nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312532)

Read the article again. In only 1 question (Q6) and only 1 category (speed) was there any statistically significant difference between striped and non. I don't consider that a minor improvement. I consider that an insignificant improvement.

I implement Zebra Striping because I find it aesthetically pleasing.

Re:It looks nice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23311978)

I first encountered zebra striped tables in the AD&D Players Handbook (early 80s). They highlighted alternating lines in groups of three (or so). They were a must have when reading tables of many, many small numbers.

With the introduction of THAC0 in 2nd Ed., the striping went away.

Re:It looks nice (5, Insightful)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312068)

Still, a slight improvement is still an improvement.
Isn't an improvement in accuracy is better than no improvement, or a decrease?

Re:It looks nice (1)

teslar (706653) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312370)

Still, a slight improvement is still an improvement.
.
But it's not an improvement. The difference was not statistically significant, so for all we know, it might simply have been due to chance.

Re:It looks nice (2, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312108)

Okay, saying it's a wash is absolute bullocks. The difference was small, but it was there. When you're an end user, do you want the designer to say, "screw it, it's only a few percentage points," or do you want them to do everything they can to make it easier?

Most UI differences are small; the difference between having the task bar in the middle of the screen and on the edge of the screen is very small as well, but that doesn't make it not worth doing.

Re:It looks nice (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312430)

The difference is small for a half-assed 9 column table with lots of visual clues like they prepared. Try a real table in small print without alternating text entries and with narrow spacing. The difference will be enormous.

Re:It looks nice (4, Insightful)

abolitiontheory (1138999) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312120)

Exactly. Is the improvement in "accuracy and efficency" really the only goal? What about a more pleasurable user experience, reduced stress or sense of fatigue, etc? Essentially, any time we treat humans like machines we miss a huge part of the equation. If a humans overall comfort level is increased, as long as it is not in a way which directly detracts from the work they are performing (alcohol comes to mind), they're almost guarunteed to be more productive and committed in the long term. This is the same reason we buy fancy coffee for drastically overmarked prices, instead of the dollar cup from BlowJoe Coffee. Aesthetic and experience matter, and if there are no marked *decreases* in efficiency due to table striping, then I'll do it every day of the week.

Re:It looks nice (0, Offtopic)

hostyle (773991) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312974)

I find that zebra stripes on wide tables don't really help, but rather having row/columns -based colour changes on mouseover/hover helps a lot.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23311872)

Must be a really, really slow day...

Re:Anonymous Coward (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312182)

Yes, it is a slow, slow day. So, how 'bout them niggers?

And now .. (1)

moseman (190361) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311890)

And this study cost how much?

"And now, the first Stripeless Zebra" from Bob's Circus, Bob and Tom show.

Re:And now .. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312354)

"And now, the first Stripeless Zebra" from Bob's Circus, Bob and Tom show.

Otherwise known as a "horse."

Re:And now .. (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312892)

Ooh, and here, out of the mists of history, the legendary Esquilax, the horse with the head of a rabbit, and the body of a rabbit. Oh, look! It's galloping away!

Do Zebra Stripes Actually Help? (3, Funny)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311892)

Yes, much in the same way that Go Faster Stripes work...

Re:Do Zebra Stripes Actually Help? (5, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312056)

The other option is Red. Red is always faster.

The now extinct Red Go Faster Striped Zebras easily outran cheetahs. They didn't actually go extinct; they just migrated so fast, time stopped for them.

Re:Do Zebra Stripes Actually Help? (1)

The Queen (56621) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312360)

There is a nugget of wisdom hiding in your joke. All designers (and most laymen) realize the impact of the color red. Using that in a table to help certain figures stand out more is a no-brainer.

Red as one of the colors used in a zebra-stripe, however, is a big no-no. Red is only useful in small doses.

Re:Do Zebra Stripes Actually Help? (4, Informative)

WhiplashII (542766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312822)

Except...

Please remember that some of us are colorblind!

(I was trying to start the "Meet the Robinsons" Blue Ray disk the other day, and couldn't find the "Play" option. It seems some genius over there made the text green on white, and therefor invisible to me...)

Re:Do Zebra Stripes Actually Help? (1)

lesinator (459276) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312076)

My tables go faster with speed holes.

Re:Do Zebra Stripes Actually Help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312342)

I put VTEC and Type R logos on all my tables- Vroom, vroom!

Maybe not faster but more Aesthetically Pleasing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23311898)

I just think it looks better aesthetically. Breaks up the page a bit than giving an entire boring white page. I know the last thing programmers generally look at is how things look (but how it works instead) but even if its not faster it looks cleaner from a design POV.

Re:Maybe not faster but more Aesthetically Pleasin (4, Interesting)

CrazedWalrus (901897) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312450)

On printed pages, I've seen people using a ruler to help scan through tables of numbers. I thought that was where the idea for zebra striping came from. Honestly, I'm surprised that it was only a minor improvement. Maybe it's just me and my bad eyes, but I think it helps tremendously. It probably also matters how many columns there are -- the more there are, the more it helps. I'd also suspect that fatigue would kick in, so it would make less difference for, say, less than 100 exercises, and more difference after that. [Didn't RTFA. Maybe they address those points.]

I'm no GUI designer, but when I make utility web pages that use tables, I tend to use either zebra striping or a tr:hover that uses a light yellow to highlight the line under the mouse pointer. That way, if I feel I need the help to track through the table, I just run the mouse down the columns and it lines up the current row for me very nicely. IMHO, this is a nice compromise where zebra striping might not look good, but the user might want the help nonetheless.

Re:Maybe not faster but more Aesthetically Pleasin (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312914)

I think the problem is that they were looking for specific data. They still have to look at every row....the striping just makes it easier to identify the other columns once you find the data.

Find the rows in the table where the tax rate is greater than 9%. Now list the names of the states with a tax rate greater than 9%. The striping really only helps in the second part of that process.

Layne

Re:Maybe not faster but more Aesthetically Pleasin (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312964)

I like zebra striping that uses a virtual 'ruler'. It highlights the row that you're currently on, then you can very easily zip across the columns and see what you're actually on.

mininova [mininova.org] has a great implementation of this imho. I liked it so much I stole the CSS for my personal websites.

How about scalability? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23311912)

Finding data in nine columns with alternating text and numbers is easy. Try upping the number of columns, using only numbers, use close spacing, and reduce the text size. Then you will see a difference. This experiment is flawed because they didn't test how the values scale with more columns and less helpful clues (like the differences between text and spacing in their sample table). This article should have been rejected for not taking into account these issues.

Coloring every 3rd or 5th row helps too (3, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311916)

I don't have a study to prove it, but coloring or otherwise marking every Nth row, where n is a smallish number, say 2-5, helps.

Anyone else remember fanfold wide-format computer paper that was colored white and green in alternating blocks of 3 rows each?

Re:Coloring every 3rd or 5th row helps too (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312054)

3 rows is the most you should go when striping. That makes every row distinctive -- it's either unbordered, bordered on top or on bottom.

Don't try 2-row striping -- for some reason it just looks wrong, like each pair is supposed to be related. Probably because it's just less common.

Re:Coloring every 3rd or 5th row helps too (5, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312096)

it's called green bar paper, and it's still used, young jedi.

Re:Coloring every 3rd or 5th row helps too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312156)

The paper you're talking about was usually referred to as greenbar, and yes, it makes a world of difference, especially in low light. While the fellow who did this test was using "good scientific methods" his test isn't actually optimal for testing the environments for which such striping is optimal.

A good test would alternate color every three rows so the bars are easier to follow, and it would be 320 columns of data with between 1 and 7 monospaced spaces for column seperators. In this environment the eye tries to follow the much more consistent white space of the columns and to orient itself to the page by following the vertical striping that it perceives in such outputs. This is where greenbar excelled. There wasn't a need for a scientific proof that it made a difference, there were people who would get back to their business, realize they'd bought the wrong stuff, and spend another 2 hours fighting traffic to return it and get the greenbar paper.

Re:Coloring every 3rd or 5th row helps too (1)

abolitiontheory (1138999) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312196)

Coloring every fifth row makes me think of how editors mark every 5th line in a long/epic poem. It helps the reader keep his place and know his progress, without annoying them with a line number every line. This makes sense to me, good point.

On a side note however, this technique seems to accomplish a different goal. The goal of table striping is to increase efficiency and accuracy in locating data points. The effect of striping every fifth line (to me) is to make linear progress through the document easier to track. Not sure if it matters, but its an interesting difference in my mind.

Re:Coloring every 3rd or 5th row helps too (2, Interesting)

boris111 (837756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312210)

It's a fond memory actually from growing up in the 80's. When I was young brat my dad would bring those home with him to look them over. He'd also bring left over print outs for us to draw on. I remember they had a strange smell. He also brought home old punch cards for the same purpose.

at zebra crossings (1, Offtopic)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311918)

if you get run over at a zebra crossing you'll be easier to see whether you are black or white.

Yes, please. (1)

mpathetiq (726625) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311936)

I personally hate when long tables/lists aren't zebra striped. If the type is smaller than 10 point or so, I REALLY need this.

Preposterous (1)

PowerVegetable (725053) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311948)

Zebra striping ineffective? Preposterous! What sort of Game is this Jessica Enders playing?

Re:Preposterous (0, Offtopic)

427_ci_505 (1009677) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312166)

dorkstick

Yes and No. (3, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311950)

It depends on the program displaying the data. Some programs allow you to to click on the row and get that one row highlighted. That is a huge help. Others like tables on a web page don't allow that. In that case I say it does help.
Also the size of the table makes a difference.

Re:Yes and No. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312254)

Whenever I have many rows of data like this on a web page I always make the rows highlight when you move the mouse over them (suck it Javascript haters).

Re:Yes and No. (1)

CrazedWalrus (901897) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312798)

I do the same thing, but using the tr:hover property. Of course, my web pages are usually for small groups or just myself, so I don't worry that this doesn't work with IE6. I have no idea if it works with IE7. If you don't care, CSS is much easier to do.

Re:Yes and No. (4, Informative)

WhiteDragon (4556) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312260)

It depends on the program displaying the data. Some programs allow you to to click on the row and get that one row highlighted. That is a huge help. Others like tables on a web page don't allow that. In that case I say it does help.
In Firefox, when looking at html tables, you can hold down ctrl and select the row. I find this to be fairly helpful.

A test without fatigued test subjects... (5, Insightful)

jakesher (546070) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311968)

is irrelevant.

Re:A test without fatigued test subjects... (2, Insightful)

raddan (519638) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312410)

Good point, and here's another: her tables are not nearly large enough. I'd like to see the author add a "scale" component to her study. Striping on small tables may have a negligible benefit, but on large tables, I think you'll see something significant. Maybe the obviousness of this benefit is lost on people now that we have fast computers-- after all, a fast computer can look up table data (or heck, compute it directly) a lot faster than you can, so I expect that really big tables aren't so common anymore. But flip open any mathematics textbook printed before the 1980's, and there are plenty of huge tables in them. Ruler required.

Re:A test without fatigued test subjects... (1)

Sonri (900181) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312696)

But flip open any mathematics textbook printed before the 1980's, and there are plenty of huge tables in them. Ruler required.
Don't you mean, slide rule required? (Those of you old enough to actually use one of these can tell me if it's slide rule or slide ruler. A parent showed me one once.)

Re:A test without fatigued test subjects... (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312770)

I think s/he meant using a ruler to read across the table without losing your line. Although most slide rules could serve this purpose as well. I still use a ruler to read across old technical documents that are typeset very small on unruled paper ...

Re:A test without fatigued test subjects... (1)

Sonri (900181) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312912)

So much for attempting to get modded funny. I was thinking about those huge tables in the back of statistics textbooks. My college text looked like it was written in the 80s.

Re:A test without fatigued test subjects... (1)

raddan (519638) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312862)

It's called a slide rule, and no, I meant a real ruler. A slide rule [wikipedia.org] is actually a calculating device. They're quite good at their particular problem domain, and accurate enough for a lot of things. My father (a former physicist) uses his when he does carpentry.

Anyway, the point about the ruler being-- this is basically the same thing as zebra stripes, so they are obviously useful.

They absolutely help (4, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311974)

On narrow tables they don't make a difference. But on wide tables they're almost a necessity. Without any table cell borders, like a spreadsheet, or striping, the eye easily wanders up or down into another row when reading across. I can say anecdotally that I'm far more accurate and faster when reading a table with stripes.

Either way, they certainly can't hurt, especially if they're a pale color. So why are we even having this discussion?

Re:They absolutely help (1)

louks (1075763) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312380)

So why are we even having this discussion?


We're having this discussion because no one uses white/green striped tractor feed printer paper anymore to read source code and output. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a novelty.

In addition, they've obviously never read anything by Edward Tufte.

of course (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311976)

Of course they help. They let us know where it's legal to cross the street.

zebra-striped better than bordered (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23311984)

For sure zebra-striped tables look way better than the ugly bold-bordered tables in TFA.

Bad example (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Cowtard (573891) | more than 6 years ago | (#23311996)

So they conclude it doesn't help (though their own data says that it does, even though it's slight) based on THAT table? Maybe they should try it again with a zebra striped table where the difference between the colors used is slightly more pronounced. I don't know about the rest here but I personally think I had a harder time with that because the color difference between rows was so slight than if they had left out the color. Played tricks on my eyes.

Re:Bad example (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312502)

I agree. I think it is made even worse by the fact that there is very little contrast difference between the text and the zebra stripe. My personal preference has always been for a baby blue, but they used grey instead. I guess they were trying to simulate black and white newspaper print, but who uses that anymore?

Re:Bad example (1)

RyoShin (610051) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312720)

I wondered about that, too. I didn't even notice the stripes until I saw the caption for the image, then had to look back up.

For quick swapping you only want to deal with the background, not the foreground, and so you have to consistently use light or dark colors so that the text doesn't disappear. Working around this is almost trivial, though, especially when using CSS and classes.

And, as another user said, stripes really become useful when you have large spans of columns to go through. I'd be interested to see this same thing re-conducted both with darker rows and with wider (requiring scrolling) tables.

In fact, it looks like they're doing a follow-up study [formulate.com.au] . I just took it, and while the table is still narrow it also used darker row colors. (Though now you get a mix of tables, rather than a single one.)

Re:Bad example (1)

fsmunoz (267297) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312866)

Are you using a laptop? Because I share your opinion, but that's only when looking directly at my laptop screen... if I lay down the screen a bit the contrast becomes *much* more noticeable... the dark grey appears almost white when I look at it directly.

This is not the first time I have noticed that laptops suck for this kind of thing though.

Possible alternative? (3, Interesting)

sloth jr (88200) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312008)

If zebra striping doesn't actually make it easier to identify which cells actually belong to a given row - maybe a rethink of what is trying to be accomplished here could help. Perhaps highlighting of the row under the cursor?

sloth jr

That was useful (4, Funny)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312010)

Study conducted of whether long-held belief has real benefits. Conclusion: Maybe a little.

News at 11.

But does it protect against lions? (1)

Nithron (661003) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312012)

Okay, I was actually hoping for some research into whether the camouflage on actual physical zebras was effective. This is just really disappointing, people. Rectify the mistake immediately.

Re:But does it protect against lions? (1)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312516)

I have never had a striped table attacked by a lion. All of my tables were rectangular, but it's reasonable to extrapolate the results to tables of other shapes, such as a table shaped like a zebra. From there, it's only a small leap to the outline of a real zebra. So I can confidently say that the striping on actual physical zebras is effective, based on my experiences. Hope this helps.

Now back to my job as a political commentator...

The values of zebra striping (1)

abolitiontheory (1138999) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312016)

in real life, however, are incalculable. well, except that you constantly get scanned and have to pay for yourself nearly everywhere you shop.

hiding near a white picket fence at night is a breeze, though.

One problem... (1)

dfm3 (830843) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312042)

The example table in TFA has a light gray outline around every cell. I'm not sure if the table used in the experiment did, but I wouldn't doubt that the thin horizontal lines between each row/column can help "guide" the eyes the same way that zebra striping supposedly would.

Put the table on a plain white background with no borders, and I bet the results would be different. I would also bet that changing the spacing between columns (to add large chunks of white space, for example) would affect the results, too.

Re:One problem... (1)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312572)

The example table in TFA has a light gray outline around every cell. I'm not sure if the table used in the experiment did, but I wouldn't doubt that the thin horizontal lines between each row/column can help "guide" the eyes the same way that zebra striping supposedly would.

The striped table used in the experiment (as shown in the screenshot in the paper) does not have any cell borders at all. They provide no image of the non-striped table, however. From the usability studies I've read in the past, they favor having cell borders and using colored stripes for every other or every fifth line or column. Also, they recommend using a different, primary color probably a bit darker than the very light grey used. I don't think I've ever seen one recommend doing away with cell borders as that makes it harder to follow the columns and lines. Without a picture of the non-striped table, this paper is useless.

Put the table on a plain white background with no borders, and I bet the results would be different.

This paper needs some serious peer review and critique. It seems inconclusive in the results, but not in the expressed opinion of those results. It also only tested one table, rather than a variety of table sizes and styles (with and without striping). I guess my real question is, why is this on Slashdot? There are plenty of peer reviewed and through usability and UI studies, but I don't think I've ever seen them here. Why this one?

Depends on the table (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312072)

The more columns/complex the table Zebra striping will help the user not lose their place. But, this needs to be balanced with the length of the table. After a while they will forget which line they're on regardless of formatting.
That's why I'm a fan of showing the least amount of data I can. More complex = more chance for errors. Drill down application are a pain, but, better than a mistake in payroll.

I love it (4, Funny)

krog (25663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312082)

That's why I still print out web pages on greenbar before reading them.

I know this one! (1)

Kamineko (851857) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312114)

The answer is: Yes, they do!

Well, that was fun.

Why it didn't help... (4, Informative)

BytePusher (209961) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312116)

I can tell you why it didn't help. They formatted their table with large spaces between columns and they had only 9 rows. If they tried the same study where they also varied the number of rows I am sure they would find that as the rows increase the positive effect of zebra striping increases. It seems they had a bias built into their test in order to find something unexpected... otherwise the study would have proved pointless.

I can see the Slashdot headline now, "A practice used for over half a century still proves to be useful!" Somehow, I think such a headline falls under the category of "not news."

Re:Why it didn't help... (2, Informative)

BytePusher (209961) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312160)

correction: switch rows with columns in my post.

I can tell you why it didn't help. They formatted their table with large spaces between columns and they had only 9 columns. If they tried the same study where they also varied the number of columns I am sure they would find that as the columns increase the positive effect of zebra striping increases. It seems they had a bias built into their test in order to find something unexpected... otherwise the study would have proved pointless. I can see the Slashdot headline now, "A practice used for over half a century still proves to be useful!" Somehow, I think such a headline falls under the category of "not news."

Re:Why it didn't help... (1)

Kijori (897770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312884)

The highlighting is also barely noticeable! When I looked at the example I originally thought it was going to be the "no stripes" control because it was so difficult to see the stripes.

An obvious problem with the study (5, Insightful)

archeopterix (594938) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312132)

I see a problem with the experiment. The hard part of the questions involves scanning down a column , where horizontal striping obviously does not help.

Re:An obvious problem with the study (2, Insightful)

hyfe (641811) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312274)

Heh, that's I really good point.

I thought it was self-evidentary that stripes should run the same way you're most likely to scan.. so you don't have to work too hard to keep your eyesight on the same line. Apparently it wasn't that evident though.

That said, zebra-stripes are nice when you choose good colours, and have them run in the direction they're supposed to.. and they're really horrible when you screw up.. as a lot of people do.

Another problem (2, Insightful)

Selanit (192811) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312508)

In addition to that excellent point, I'm skeptical about the way the table was designed. There's an image of the table here:

http://alistapart.com/d/zebrastripingdoesithelp/data-table.png [alistapart.com]

The "ordinary" rows have a background color of pure white. The "striped" rows have a background color of #F5F5F5, a very light grey. I'm all in favor of subtle design, but there is such a thing as being too subtle.

Perhaps the stripes did not help noticeably because there was insufficient contrast between the rows?

Of Course Zebra Stripes Help! (1)

clichescreenname (1220316) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312198)

Of Course Zebra Stripes Help!

If they didn't, lions would be way fatter!

Re:Of Course Zebra Stripes Help! (3, Funny)

stoofa (524247) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312328)

They also help the pack slice their dinner up fairly. For very lazy lions there are now even zebras with perforated easy-claw edges down every third black stripe.

Not enough data to answer the question! (2, Informative)

elwinc (663074) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312228)

The experimental design is good, and I'm glad the experiment was done, but the conclusion of the paper is that there's not enough data to answer the question!

There may be an effect, but if so, it's small enough that 281 experimental subjects and six questions are not enough to yield statistically significant results. That result alone (that the effect is small at best) makes the paper worthwhile to me. One small quibble: on a web page, I can often use scrolling and the bottom or top of the page to check alignment on a wide table. Maybe zebra stripes are more useful on paper.

But before I give up entirely on zebra stripes, I'd like to see what happens when [1] the table is made wider; [2] the table is made taller; [3] the zebra stripes are 2 or 3 rows wide instead of 1; [4] the stripes are made darker and/or a different color.

C'mon people who want publications, there are lots of other things to try here.

3/3 rows help a lot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312244)

The old AD&D books used 3 rows gray, 3 rows white. That made the stripes wide enough that they were easy to follow, and made it possible to visually pick 'the top line that gray part' or 'the line in the middle line of that white part'. Not peer-reviewed study to back this up, but I always found them very easy to follow, much easier than single-row shading.

-Lars

Helps a LOT if you have Nystagmus (4, Interesting)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312272)

Nystagmus is a condition where your eyes oscillate at a frequency of about 1 Hz (roughly), usually horizontally. Having rows and especially columns coloured differently helps very much for someone affected by Nystagmus, to distinguish between columns.

BTW, a wider font like Verdana is also highly recommended.

sample size too low, and wtf? (4, Insightful)

Animaether (411575) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312286)

I'll get the wtf out of the way first
"Given that applying zebra striping in an electronic medium is a nontrivial task"

Say what? Any application that is based on columns and/or rows has trivial access to those columns/rows as separate entities. Markup for such columns/rows is easily changed. 'mod N 2 == 0? grey:white' is hardly nontrivial, it's so basic that if you can't manage to do it, you must be using the wrong software.

---

Now for the scope - it seems like the only research they have done is when data in the sheet is dense and the sheet itself is not all that wide.

Now try with a wide sheet and instead of every 'cell' or at least one of its close neighbors having data in it, imagine lots of empty cells. Now try and see if zebrastriping helps or not. I can guarantee you that without any visual cues, your lining up of something in the leftmost column to the same line on the rightmost column is going to fail far more often than you'd like.

--

Oh wait, they even admit as much:
"However, there is clearly a need for additional studies to investigate how task difficulty and the size of the table/form influence the effect of zebra striping."

No shit. I'm glad you admitted that your sample size is too low.

What about the animals? (2, Insightful)

methano (519830) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312290)

I thought this article was going to be about the evolutionary advantage that stripes give zebras, not spreadsheets. Who cares about spreadsheets, what about the zebras?

Bad experiment (1)

pubjames (468013) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312294)

In the example she used in the test, all the cells are divided by black lines, the zebra striping is very faint, and the table is narrow. It's not a surprise she didn't see much difference, the experiment looks like it was almost designed to come up with that result.

If she tried it again without the black lines dividing the cells, with less faint stripes and with a wider table, she would have come up with a very different result.

Zuba's!!! (2, Funny)

joe$007 (671878) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312388)

The stripes helped my Zuba's look cool.

Camouflage effect (1)

athloi (1075845) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312398)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dazzle_camouflage [wikipedia.org]

I think zebra striping helps people read tables with more than four columns, but there's also a camouflage effect especially when a quick glance is given.

What were they smoking ... (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312412)

... when they came up with that conclusion of 'a wash'.

They expected an improvement and they got an improvement AND there were other benefits as well.

Now what would be interesting is if colour would be of importance and what contrast would be the best and if the test must be on the lines or not.

What about dual lines? Tripple lines?

It's a wash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312418)

Oh, that was easy says Man, who goes on to prove that black is white, and gets killed at the next zebra crossing.

Speaking of Zebras (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312446)

Zebras aren't bras for especially well-endowed women.

But are real zebras white horses with black stripes, or black horses with white strips? Yes there is a correct answer to this.

Re:Speaking of Zebras (1)

KeithJM (1024071) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312658)

Wikipedia says that Stephen J. Gould says they're dark with white stripes and a big white patch on their stomach. You can tell by shaving them. Shaving zebras is not a hobby for the weak-willed. Oh, and they aren't horses. They are related, but different.

Questions are bizzare (4, Insightful)

bperkins (12056) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312482)

Perhaps I'm being a bit pedantic, but am I the only one that thought some of the questions were oddly worded?

Here's what I view as correct answers:

Q What is the name of the screw that costs $35.66?

A: None. The M28 screw costs $35.66 per 50.

Q There are 664 screws of which minor diameter tolerance?

A: None. The M18 Screw has a minor diameter tolerance of 8g, and there are 664 of those, but there are 1442 screws with a tolerance of 8g.

Q: There are 292 screws of what thread pitch?

A: None. There are 292 M16 screws which have a thread pitch of 2mm, but there are 527 screws with a thread pitch of 2mm.

Seriously flawed, but great stufy (2, Interesting)

thinktech (1278026) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312600)

How exactly to they justify their results when they clearly admit this

It is also important to note that a few participants spontaneously reported that they used their finger, on or over the computer screen, to follow down columns and across rows. Other participants used their mouse to highlight rows of interest, in effect creating their own 'temporary zebra striping'.

When the participants violate the very precepts of the study by creating their own striping, the study become ridiculous. It's like doing a study if walking is slower than biking, and the walkers are allowed to bring their own bikes.

But the study itself is great, I just disagree with the conclusion, it seems to show that striping is SO useful that when denied striping, people create their own.

Re:Seriously flawed, but great stufy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312808)

This was the first thing I thought about when I finished the article. I'm surprised you were the first to mention it.

They basically invalidated the entire premise of the experiment by allowing people to use a finger or "artificial" zebra striping when participating in the study.

The only way to prove anything here would be to perform the experiment using a hard-copy of the spreadsheet or at least some format where user manipulation is impossible.

I, too, would have been more interested in an article about actual Zebras.

Maybe not flawed, just not practically useful yet (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312968)

You can violate almost any principle of design and show that for small data sets under lab conditions that principle doesn't contribute much to usability. For the dataset in question, you probably could misalign the columns and rows, then display them in six point type and there wouldn't be much difference in speed or accuracy.

The study gives a baseline result that is entirely credible: for small static datasets and a small number of questions, a non-fatigued subject population manages to get through a short list of relatively easy questions about as well with or without the striping.

It's a valid starting point, but it's not really enough for practitioners to pay attention yet.

Who says they're camoflauge? (1)

seanonymous (964897) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312664)

The problem isn't with the procedure in this study, but with the assumption that the stripes are there to hide the animal. Clearly, a zebra's vertical stripes are there for the slimming affect, so that predators will more likely eat the fat horse standing next to the zebra.

It's hard to prove something you don't like (1)

ProppaT (557551) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312682)


The way I see it, this person obviously wanted to prove that candy striping doesn't help because they personally don't like it. Candy striping isn't supposed to be a miracle fix that no one can live without...if it were all books would come candy striped. What it helps with are applications where users what to scan for specific information fast, not ones where people are trying to read them as books.

The reason it works is more physical than it is psychological. It helps your eyes read in a straight, horizontal line. This is the same reason that some people will read with a notecard underneath the line of text. It's easier for your eyes to move horizontally when there's something above and/or below it to tell you "keep your eyes in the center, buddy."

My personal experience is that I can fly through message boards, ledgers, etc. that employ this tactic while I tend to give up with/not use message boards, ledgers, etc. that don't. It's frustrating.

Douglas Adams quote (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312698)

I've been waiting for the chance to use this one:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bog-gglingly useful [the Babelfish] could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy,'' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

RE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23312734)

Huge flaw. He added border-lines. This test should be conducted without border lines! Another test was done somewhere about whether it was best to use background zebra striping, or have a border underneath to guide the eyes. I can't remember the results of it, but it would be relevant.

Follow-up Survey (2, Interesting)

RyoShin (610051) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312768)

If you didn't like how they ran this test (and I agree with most of the complaints), A List Apart is running a follow-up survey over the internet. I almost missed this, as it isn't mentioned until the very end of the article.

You can find it at http://surveys.formulate.com.au/dtfu [formulate.com.au] . It takes about three-five minutes. I just took it, and they appear to be using darker row colors now. It's still too narrow to see how useful it is when you have to scroll horizontally, but it's a small improvement at least.

Issue with "Slight" attitude (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 6 years ago | (#23312960)

I see this in business all the time.

It's only a 1% difference so they cut it.
And they cut 15 other 1% things.

And the result is a cardboard tomato, a useless piece of software, an inferior product.

It is the 80/20 rule defined. You spend 80% of your time on 20% of the product to get a good product.

The result of their attitude is a product that is 80% as good as what you really wanted and needed.
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