If decrease in time represents a better score, should I show an up or down arrow?

I've created a Rubik's cube timer web app, and each time a user uses the stopwatch, their time is added to a table on the webpage.

With each attempt, an arrow is shown informing the user whether their attempt improved (decreased in time compared to the last attempt) or became worse (increased in time). I chose the down arrow to represent a decrease in time, as that's what seems intuitive to me, and an up arrow to represent increase in time. However, my users informed me that the arrows are confusing and they expected the arrows to be the other way around. With a better score (decrease in time) they expect the arrow to point up, signifying that they did better. Both explanations make sense, but at the same time seem to be confusing. What direction should the arrow point and why, or am I missing something?

I've already looked through this post but it doesn't seem to answer my question.

Let's back up—consider this...

The problem isn't up or down arrow. The problem is using an arrow to represent change in response time. The reason is because response time is viewed as higher numbers (up/↑) being slower (down/↓), and lower numbers (down/↓) being faster (up/↑)—ambiguous. You'll never get everyone on the same page interpreting up and down arrows.

Which is better to focus on, the fact the amount of time to respond is lower, or that it is faster?

Faster is emotional, immediately motivating...is subjective. Lower is unemotional, needs further interpretation...is objective.

So use an indicator for response time change that communicates speed:

There's space for words, so, for example, using faster and slower. Also added color to support change direction, and ranking for elaboration.

Or, find an appropriate icon:

...in this case turtles and rabbits. A speedometer ought to also work.

• A great answer! - I just want to add the caveat that colours should not be used as indicators without the text/icon fallback shown here... and red text on a black background really doesn't work. Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 10:48
• @RouxMartin I'd say the red he has chosen doesn't work. A lighter shade would work fine: m2.material.io/resources/color/#!/… Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 11:17
• @Mahm00d The colours specified in your link would still fail AAA accessibility for small text. You have to move right into shades of pink (something like #f5918F) before it will pass - And then it's not red anymore. However, while I personally think it's good practice to strive for full accessibility, I do understand that this is not everyone's goal. Also, the guides for contrast on icons are a lot less restrictive. Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 11:33
• @RouxMartin I actually checked the ACCESSIBILITY tab on the same link before posting, and there it showed passed. Though it only has large/normal text. My googling has failed me, can you guide me to accessibilty information on 'small text'? Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 14:58
• @Mahm00d I use this: tpgi.com/color-contrast-checker - it's not app or web embedded, you can sample colours or add the hex/rgb/hsl values, you can adjust to figure out how to fix the problem and it has a colourblindness simulator Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 9:22

While other responses have suggested different icons to represent improvement or worsening, I'd like to take a different approach.

Consider using a graph to display the user's progress over time. This approach provides a clear view of the user's progress, allows them to easily see improvements and worsenings, and is more engaging and intuitive than a list of numbers.

Alternatively, consider displaying user's time as a horizontal bar, keeping the vertical list arrangement. Indicate improvement with a left arrow and worsening with a right arrow. This could be a more neutral representation of progress compared to up/down arrows.

• Hmm, I feel like this is better than the arrows but can still cause confusion, because usually (to my perception) an upward trend is better.
– code
Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 17:57
• I've added an alternative with left and right pointing arrows Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 17:49

If you are showing an abstract or aggregate 'score' an improved value would show a larger value, this would allow the 'score' to take other factors into consideration.

if you are showing a discreet value, such as time alone you can simply show it as base units and annotate it as 'lower is better'

Illustrative symbols that are based on systems that are common to your audience are more recognizable than pictures or symbols that the user does not recognize.

• thermometers increase up when they are hot or decrease down when they are cold, and an arrow could be used to indicate a trend. in the physicalk world this is the expansion of a liquid due to temperature
• odomoters arc left to right.
• pressure gauges are left to right.
• fuel tank level goes from low to full, could be based on the position of a float valve
• power reserve indicators go from low to high, typically left to right.
• arrows indicate direction, and can be annotated with + or - indicating a score.

If the item could be modeled in a simple fashion with a physical activity a good indicator might model could portray that status. such as balance scales or a thermometer.

Use the paradigm consistent with the nature of what you are displaying use what makes sense for the item associated with the arrow.

Beware of cultural memes, not every symbol has the same meaning in all cultures.

In any case the choice is yours, as long as it is clear to the observer which end of the range indicates best performance.

• So how would you annotate it? That's what the OP is asking for.
– Nash
Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 16:08
• So you're saying that any direction works for those arrows?
– code
Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 18:45