This grid shows a series of numbers, together with a running total, with the grand total at the top.

How can I make it obvious to the user that is a running total.

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  • By "running total", do you mean that the number is still increasing and might change from time to time (whether it's per week, per day or even per refresh of the page)? Jun 14, 2021 at 13:37
  • It means that the numbers are accumulating over time. From 2012 to 2013 3696.25 hours were recorded (1787 hours in 2012 + 1909.25 hours in 2013).
    – Nash
    Jun 14, 2021 at 13:42
  • You could add small arrows with a plus icon showing which cells are summed up.
    – Nash
    Jun 14, 2021 at 13:43
  • I would say colour code it, as that will help the user visually. Maybe try simple conditional formatting for this.. Jun 14, 2021 at 13:55
  • Nash, that is exactly right. I'm not sure I understand your suggestion about the plus sign. Where would the plus signs go? You suggest they would indicate which cells are being added, ... but each total is the sum of different cells. Jun 14, 2021 at 13:56

3 Answers 3


I feel like you are trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist.

Typically, applications that involve displaying grids of data (such as this) are usually used by people that have some understanding of the data they are viewing. They are not going to be totally clueless as to what they are seeing, and should therefore be able to connect the dots and work out what that particular column means.

Having said that, my suggestion is to just make a simple label change to your column.

So what should the label be? I think you may have already answered that in your question. I would recommend going with either Running Total or Running Total (Hours) (if you want to be more specific of the units).

The definition of "running total" is as follows:

a total that is continually adjusted to take account of further items.

This is a common term and should be obvious enough to your target users.

A quick web-search also suggests this is a common term when working with similar data in spreadsheets.


Based on Nash's comment, I think adding the accumulative amount behind every number would assist in helping the user understand the context. If we're adding the accumulative amount then we could omit the second row with "Hours".

  • Use of color for added clarity, user can quickly scan for green (positive), red (negative; although probably wouldn't occur in this particular table), and blue (neutral; no change)

  • Use of symbols for adding clarity, arrow up; arrow down; minus symbols to show an increase, decrease, or no change.

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  • 2
    Seems a bit redundant as you are basically just replicating the "hours" column.
    – musefan
    Jun 14, 2021 at 14:18
  • 1
    @musefan You're absolutely right! I actually didn't notice that when making the changes and I just calculated it for each row manually. Thanks for noticing! Jun 15, 2021 at 7:45

I thought of something like this. It is similar to Excel's trace precedents feature. Maybe you also only want to display it on select or if the user clicks a specific menu.

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  • 2
    Personally, this seems a bit overly complicated for something that is already fairly obvious.
    – musefan
    Jun 14, 2021 at 14:23
  • While I appreciate the idea, I think the pluses and arrows distract from the numbers and now you need to decipher two concepts instead of one (the meaning of the plus/arrow pattern and its correlation to the numbers).
    – jazZRo
    Jun 14, 2021 at 15:53

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