[For PC applications (desktop and web)]

As a common rule, when showing data grids, and sorting data through one of its columns, a little arrow appears on that column (sometimes also, the header column back color is changed), but is it enough?.

What about a full screen data grid, and sorted data, a user wants to know, where did that sorting comes from?. Is there any really significant difference between:

Only showing the little arrow:

enter image description here

Changing the background color of the 'set data order' column

This way the user will know, instantaneously, that there's something special with that column, it sets the data general sorting.

That's ok, but in this application, each time a new data row is added (happens very often), it appears with a yellow back color (a way to notify users). Then, the grid would be showing too many colors and certainly (I think), it would be somewhat annoying:

Two colors for zebra striping, one for selected row(s), a yellow one for new data added, and another one for the column that sorts.

enter image description here

Is there any other alternatives?
Based on experience, what would be the best to do?

3 Answers 3


Be careful when increasing the visibility of competing items.

If everything is important, then nothing is important.

If you have many competing items, consider reducing the visual impact of other things in the grid, rather than making yet another thing highlighted. Keep the design clean and minimalist, and the little arrow will be enough on its own to indicate sorting.

  • Your advice has refreshed my design, looks better now, thanks!
    – Shin
    Aug 1, 2014 at 0:26
  • 1
    @Shin Glad I could help :)
    – Franchesca
    Aug 1, 2014 at 8:49

More the number of indicative colors you use, more will the user be confused. Note that the colors are not intuitive as well. User can't tell what kind of thing the color represents by looking at it.

My suggestion is to make the sorting indicator arrow bigger.

[Off topic]: Please provide your users with a functionality to toggle the sort to no sorting as well. Most of the application I have encountered will not reset the sort. They just toggle between ascending and descending when sort arrow is clicked.

  • Well that's interesting, I never thought about it, to toggle to no sorting, but is it really necessary?
    – Shin
    Jul 31, 2014 at 11:45
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    @Shin: This is a real thing happened to me in Google docs: I accidentally sorted a spreadsheet with the header row. And there was no trivial way to unsort. I had to create a dummy column and insert 0 in the header row and 1 in rest of the rows, and resort by the dummy column (Thanks Google, you wasted 5 minutes of my life). Aug 11, 2014 at 12:30

You should really start by asking the end user. After talking with them, If you feel like the arrow isn't enough, I'd recommend changing the header color only for the selected row. You won't need anything drastic. A darker shade of grey should do the trick.

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