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We have a table with performance data in our application with some identifier columns such as id and name and some metric columns such as revenue and cost. A user can click on a column to sort based on that column and click another time to sort in the other direction.

Should sorting first be done ascending (A to Z) or descending (Z to A)?

For the identifier columns using ascending seems to make more sense, for the metrics you are mostly interested in the biggest ones so sorting descending seems to make more sense. But mixing them up also sounds a bit confusing.

2 Answers 2

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Whatever you do, don't create different sort behaviours in a table of data. It would massively confuse users.

When a list is unsorted, it could contain a number of items such as:

  • 10
  • 24
  • 07
  • 01
  • 36

If your data is all about highlighting big numbers, sort in a descending order first:

  • 36
  • 24
  • 10
  • 07
  • 01

This would mean that you'd be sorting text in descending order too. So a list of:

  • John
  • Alex
  • Ben
  • Jessica
  • Zoe

would be sorted first as:

  • Zoe
  • John
  • Jessica
  • Ben
  • Alex

Does this throw your users off? If it doesn't stick with a descending by default sort order.

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While going to basics and using alphabetical order sounds fair it is usually not the most useful approach, users end up seeing the same IDs at the top every time the see the table. I would say it all depends on what is the most common thing your users are going to look for in the data you are displaying, some ideas:

  • Most recent data, so they see what's new.
  • Less performant active user, so they can act upon it.

I'd recommend to do a bit of research what is the key info they'll be using in the table to make that decision :)

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  • I am sorry, I think I should have stated my question more clear. We do indeed have a default sorting on the most important column (eg revenue) so the user sees the thing that is most important immediately. However, sometimes a user still wants to see something different. Eg the cost. Currently, the user can click on the column and the table will be sorted on that column (ascending). Clicking again will sort descending. We are wondering if that is indeed the most logical or that the first click should lead to a descending sort. (Either for some of the columns or for all)
    – Rik
    Oct 25, 2021 at 9:30

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