Rating scales with smileys (sad faces and happy faces) are used a lot. Some scales go from sad/angry to happy, some the other way around. Is there a good argument to use one over the other?

In case there's a difference, I'm trying to answer this question specificly for mobile apps.

Happy to sad:

Happy to sad

Sad to happy:

Sad to happy

  • Interesting question. I suspect that this is one of those things you can't guess and have to test.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 20:53

4 Answers 4


My initial instinct is to go from sad to happy.

The only real argument I can provide is that it reflects a type of number line, with the neutral face being 0, positive numbers being smiley faces, and negatives being frowning faces.

The first row of faces in your sad to happy image has a heart instead of a face. I would use faces for all options to keep consistency. Also, use tool-tips or some other method to alternatively determine the value of each face.

  • I'd keep the heart for the opposite reason you mention: to break consistency. However, if I wanted a more meditated rating (for example, because I actually need the ratings for something), then I'd use something consistent, probably more like the last row in order to make the user pay attention since those icons aren't easy to scan. And of course, you're right with the scale mentioned in your first paragraph, but I'll add another reason for your answer: icons to the right are easier to be clicked by most right handed users, so positive icons should be placed on the right
    – Devin
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 0:16

Five-star ratings. The most common rating system I see online, the five-star rating, goes from left to right with positive values to the right. Unless there is good reason to break from this convention I would follow this pattern.

Right-to-left languages. I'm not sure if this convention is flipped in languages that read from right-to-left.

Facebook. A note about Facebook's smiley ratings. Their scale is not a simple, linear sad to happy. They have opted to keep the most commonly chosen items on the left near the current position of the pointer, finger or mouse, where the user initiated the rating.

Example Star Rating from Amazon.com

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Facebook Smiley Ratings

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  • 2
    Facebook is weird though because they aren't used as ratings. They are "reactions". Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 21:37
  • @DangerZone you are absolutely correct about Facebook's smileys being 'reactions'. Thanks for making that clearer. I brought up FB because the OP used some smiley graphics that looked very similar to FB's. Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 23:58

It can also depend on the which platform you are using. If it is on mobile it can be happy to sad as it is easy to click on right.


I would use sad -> happy, because when users read it from left-to-right*, they will finish on the happy face. To the user, it subconsciously tells a story: "First this hypothetical person was sad, but then they became happy, therefore that makes me happy."

It's extremely subtle, and might not make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. I would encourage you to do some A/B testing with both options and see if it has any effect on user behavior.

*Some languages are read right-to-left, so if you are planning to support any RTL languages, I would also test with natives to that language in case it makes a difference.

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