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Should labels be emphasized more than data? Or visa versa?

In documents, it seems that there's a general tendency for labels to be emphasized more than the data that they label. For example browsers may render TH elements as bold but TD as regular weight. And in forms, I usually see the LABEL elements in bold but the INPUT elements or any other relevant data to be unbold.

In a way it seems natural - just like headings are usually in bold because they allow us to quickly scan the page and break it into chunks.

On the other hand, you might say that in most cases the data itself is more important than the label, and so should be higher up the visual hierarchy. I'm sure it depends on the individual circumstance, but I find myself tending towards making the data (in tables etc) more immediately visible than the labels.

Anyone else have any views, or know of any research on this?

Views: 13

Comment by James Morris on November 10, 2009 at 17:24
My personal thoughts would be that a user looks first for the label to help them find the data as you said.
I spose it also depends on the data being displayed. If it's a pricing table for example, then is it ok to make one item of data stand out over another (e.g special offers)? Does the data have a hierarchy and how is it best to deal with it? Sorry not really any kind of answer to your question, if anything perhaps more questions. I would like to read your thoughts though. Cheers
Comment by Andrew Arch on November 10, 2009 at 23:48
I have to agree with James regarding labels helping to locate the data points of interest. Ditto with form labels - they help users identify which fields are what and which need to be completed.
If you are going to provide some visual emphasis on key data points that you want to draw attention to, remember that some people hear your page and others don't see your styling, so you need more that just a bold or colour indicator.

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