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I want to let the user toggle a column heading to sort a grid by a date field.

How can I make the ascending/descending dichotomy intuitive?

EDIT: I was looking for date-column specific solutions.

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

The convention is to have an upward arrow for ascending lists and a downward arrow for descending lists. It doesn’t work. In usability testing I’ve done, users are evenly split on whether my name ends up at the top or bottom of the list no matter which arrow you show.

Part of the problem is there is just something cognitively weird about an upward arrow meaning the list increases when you go downward in the list. However, I tried left (ascending/forwards) and right (descending/backwards) arrows, and still had unacceptable performance.

The only thing I found that works is a generic alphanumeric representation of the bounds. For example:

Name (A--Z)

File Size (1--9)

Date (1--12)

I found that it’s not necessary for the bounds to reflect the true minimum and maximum values in the list.

It’s up to you if you think it’s worth the clutter. Users I talked to say they look at the items in the list to see the order, and ignore the symbols in the header. Maybe that’s good enough for your situation.

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The preferred way to do this seems to be with an "up" triangle (▲) for ascending and a "down" triangle for descending (▼).

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What Marcos said, plus applying a rollover effect on the column header. – ThomPete Oct 18 '10 at 18:10
I never remember if "up" is ascending or descending (even in software I wrote) so I always just look at first two items to see the order - and that's why I like Michael Zuschlag's answer – Nir Oct 19 '10 at 10:48

Another possiblity is to use small ascending and descending barcharts.

For example ascending sort

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Welcome to the site, @Naveen. The OP's question asks specifically about a date column. Can you provide evidence that this solution works for dates? – Graham Herrli Nov 25 '15 at 17:55

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