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To represent "sort ascending" (a -> b -> c -> ...) , my first sense told me that, I should use ↓ to represent it. This is because if I lay my data


It seems like thing is moving naturally toward downwards.

However, for the table header under Windows, the thing I saw is, they are mostly using up arrow.

enter image description here

Hence, I was wondering, which symbol is more suitable? up arrow or down arrow?

From http://www.iconfinder.com/search/?q=ascending, I can see they mostly use up arrow.

But, from end user point of view, if I saw a up arrow at table header, I would thought the largest value (says z) nearest to the top table, and smallest value (says a) at the bottom of table.

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Very similar to this question: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/2041/… –  Michael Zuschlag Apr 4 '13 at 0:59

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

as·cend (-snd)

v. as·cend·ed, as·cend·ing, as·cends v.intr.

  1. To go or move upward; rise. See Synonyms at rise.
  2. To slope upward.
  3. To rise from a lower level or station; advance: ascended from poverty to great wealth; ascend to the throne.
  4. To go back in time or upward in genealogical succession.

Hence, the windows version is right in this sense. Ascending should be upwards.

Incase of the alphabet, you have to think of it in this sense; A is the beginning of the alphabet and Z is the end. You increase as you move from beginning to end. Same like you do with numbers. 1-infinity.

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It is still not clear if the ascending sort symbol is a label (which should display current state) or a button (which should display the new state switched into by sorting). –  Wilbert Apr 25 '13 at 14:04

An up arrow (upward triangle) is literally smallest at the top, and largest at the bottom! Exactly like Ascending order!!

enter image description here

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Would you include this diagram explanation in your user interface? A good symbol speaks for itself, without need for annotation or explanation. –  Brendon Apr 25 '13 at 11:10
@Brendon hahaha. There is a point where we really think users are completely retarded! come on, even MS Excel does not do that. –  Adrien Be Nov 18 '14 at 13:16

I think the confusion exists because it is not clear if the column header symbol shows the criterion that is currently used for sorting, or acts like a button that will sort according to the symbol when clicked.

Is the column that is clicked on for sorting a button (where we would expect the 'future' sorting criterion)? Or is it rather a label (where we would expect the 'current' sorting criterion) with the additional functionality that it can be clicked to toggle sorting criteria?

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I agree. This is the same classic confusion as with switches that have "ON/OFF" printed on them -- when the switch says "ON", is it currently ON ('ON' being an adjective in this case), or will it go ON when the button is pushed ('ON' being a verb in this case)? This confusion is eliminated when the symbol is outside the button, rather than on it. This switch is very clear, whereas this one is ambiguous. –  SNag Apr 25 '13 at 14:13

It would be a lot simple to understand if you consider "Where will the first row/element appear?". If it is on the top enter image description here arrow represents that well.

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Except that the "first" row is at the top even in descending order. –  Trejkaz Aug 14 '14 at 0:04

I would say neither the up or down arrow are suitable for this. For people reading from left to right, it is slightly more difficult to 'read' a vertically-orientated arrow. There is also the problem of the arrow pointing in direction of the data, which gives the impression of the down arrow meaning ascending. Here are some alternatives which leave no (or less) ambiguity:

  • slanted arrows ('↗' for ascending and '↘' for descending);
  • right angle triangle ('◢' for ascending' and '◣' for descending);
  • textual description ('(A-Z)' for ascending and '(Z-A)' for descending).

(Apologies for the Unicode.)

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Actually, the right angled triangles, as well as 'A-Z' or 'Z-A', can be confused to mean the opposite by people who read from right to left. –  SNag Apr 25 '13 at 14:27
@SNag I'm not sure what reading right-to-left is actually like, but I was assuming that reflecting the symbols vertically would have similar interpretations for RTL readers. Perhaps there's somebody on here who reads RTL and can enlighten us(?) –  Brendon Apr 25 '13 at 14:45
A-Z and Z-A makes a lot of assumptions actually. (1) That the user uses an alphabet at all. (2) That they use the Latin one. (3) That they don't have other letters before the A or after the Z. –  Trejkaz Aug 14 '14 at 0:06

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