I want to ask for a persons gender, but I don't want to make a choice in which to put first, male or female.

Normally one would use radio buttons for this,

O male  O female

However, there is always one option which comes first.

Also in drop down menus:

Select gender

You make a choice.

I was wondering if there is a UI-element that could make both choices equally important...

The only thing I can think of (although it doesn't exist yet I think) is a circular element with one half for option A and the other half for option B and rotate it so both halves are showing. You can tap one half and it will rotate, say up, to show that choice... a bit like the "occupied" sign on a toilet door.

But I can't really imagine that this would actually would look good in say a webform.


Maybe this is an idea:

Two way toggle for equally important choices without default

A two-way toggle between choices of equal importance, with a neutral default setting. There is still the left right problem, but the choosing mechanism is in the center, so the choices are of equal distance to the choice making element...

  • 7
    Why don't you want to make a choice? And if you really don't want to, simply let the machine randomise the order. If it's discrimination you are worried about, be aware that male/female choice is often perceived as discriminating by people who define themselves bi-sexual, homosexual, intersex, etc. (While unreliable, I've been told once that a non-discriminating gender list should have 8 genders + 'prefer not to say'!
    – Izhaki
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 10:51
  • 45
    You are making a very simple concept very complicated. Do you get paid by the hour?
    – Stephen
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 13:53
  • 9
    People need to stop obsessing over this stuff. The only person who's assuming that "Male" being furthest to the left means "Male" is somehow "preferred" is you! Might want to have a think about your privilege ;) Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 16:26
  • 3
    @Izhaki - those are NOT gender identities, those are sexual preferences. People with "interesting" gender identities are used to seeing the binomial mistake and we are generally not offended by it. Nor are we offended by the common choice of putting male first.
    – Jasmine
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:17
  • 19
    Another thought - you should strongly consider the highly likely possibility that you don't need to know the gender of your users, and if you want to satisfy gender-nonstandard people, just don't ask. It's irrelevant to most online systems and I would really prefer to not be asked.
    – Jasmine
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:27

8 Answers 8


Simple 2D visual arrangements

The visual arrangement of any set of related or similar items will always be subject to some inspection order since deliberate inspection of visuals involve a scan path (subconscious visual processing, particularly of the peripheral view, happens in parallel; but high-level items of interest are scanned using a serial movement sequence of eye fixations).

With a 3D arbitrary view (say a kitchen) it is hard to determine the scan order. But on the 2D plane of interfaces the scan order of simple arrangements can be predicted to a fairly high degree.

Native English speakers typically scan such interfaces in an F shape (top-to-bottom and left-to-right).

Two items are always aligned on an invisible path that has some determined relation to the inspection path :

Two circles and the line going through their centre

The same applies to three items (a triangle) or four items (a square).

A triangle and a square with a line connecting each circle

The more complex the arrangement is, the less predictable the perceived order will be, such in this arrangement where many more visual features compete (centre, top-most vs left-most, etc.):

A circle surrounded by 6 other circles

All of the above applies to visual elements involving very similar features (size, colour, etc.). Changes in size or colour tuck in more variables to the mix and will yield a more complex visual arrangement.

  • Great post in general!
    – Pascal
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 10:56
  • 1
    When you have more than two options, you can fall back on alphabetical order to avoid accusations of bias. So the problem is mainly when you have just two options.
    – iDeveloper
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 12:52
  • 7
    2 items can be alphabetized - Female, Male - that was easy
    – DaveAlger
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 13:41
  • 4
    This doesn't really answer the question. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:14
  • @Frisbetarian In my opinion, it does. It shows how to irregulate the order in which a (native English) speaker reads the options, which affects bias.
    – HarryCBurn
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 23:30

Don't over-engineer. Both options you described are very well known and accepted. I don't think that first or second is important in this particular context and both elements are perceived equally already. A new pattern on the other hand would have to be learned and therefore make it harder to use your site.

  • Maybe it is time to add a new pattern for these situations. (Opinions on the importance of this particular context may differ :-))
    – iDeveloper
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 8:53
  • 1
    it's just not possible... we have 3 dimensions: left will (in western culture) alway be red before right, top before bottom, foreground before background, I can see that this is a highly political question, but someone will always loose ;) only thing you could do: change left / right or top / bottom every time the element is loaded :)
    – Pascal
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 9:00
  • @iDeveloper, so what is the context? Because it seems key to your question.
    – Izhaki
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 10:54
  • @Izhaki: The context is gender. And some people are quite sensitive in this matter.
    – iDeveloper
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 12:41
  • @Pascal: I have been thinking about making it random... However, the trade-off is predictability, which I hold higher than political correctness, in interfaces. :-)
    – iDeveloper
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 12:46

How about this:

Type the first letter of your gender [___]

  • 1
    +1 This solves the problem of any intended bias but it adds an extra burden to the user. (Mouse || tab) to field and then find an F or M.
    – Mayo
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 14:22
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    This may be a problem for localization. [Say Irish karlkyns / kvenkyns] Edit: may be you click / tab there and the options are presented, one to one side and one to the other (and so on).
    – Theraot
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 16:44
  • 1
    Adds the problem of enter w for woman. Or t for transsexual.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:18
  • 1
    And what do you do when a woman from Russia types in ж? Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:29
  • 2
    There's also boy and girl. Too much likelihood to get asdf answers.
    – user51426
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 6:14

I had fun making this one but I would never be caught dead actually using it...

In order to not show preference obscurity comes in to play:

1. No preference here only information


2. Since there is only one thing to interact with go ahead and click on it

One might argue that Both is preferred here but that's okay and should help diversify your data set.

many options

3. I was going to click Male but it was too far to the right and I'm lazy

It's okay this option works just as well.


☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

  • 3
    Unfortunately, business decisions and user interface design decisions do not always align :-) And sometimes, knowing the gender can be a valid and political correct requirement, for example in the medical field.
    – iDeveloper
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 13:18
  • 4
    then go with your first suggestion O male O female most forms have done it that way for so long that females will hate you if you try and change it now
    – DaveAlger
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 13:21

Since there is clearly no sensible "default gender", it seems reasonable to me to simply use alphabetical order

O Female  O Male


Select gender

If your application supports multiple languages, the order could change depending on the language. However, this should neither be particularly difficult to implement, nor will it confuse the users, as they will hardly ever change the language setting and then reselect their gender.


As long as you are consistent, there isn't anything wrong with putting one on top - say you go alphabetical, then put female first, and don't worry about it. People who search for things to criticize will find ways for it regardless of what you do.


If you're concerned with not showing preference, randomize the order each time. This is used in proper polls and voting selections to avoid bias-via-ordering. Normally randomly ordering options would be a UI problem, but with only two options it isn't.

There is the additional problem of genders other than male and female (don't use "other"). One way to solve this is to offer gender as a textarea which will auto-complete with "Male" or "Female" but will accept anything. Internally you may throw everything else into "Other", but you will also gain a better understanding of how your users identify themselves.

Yup, asking people their gender has become complicated (meaning more moving parts). This blog has some good suggestions including "if you don't have to, don't".


How to show two options without preferring one over the other initially?

The answer really depends on what you are trying to achieve by not expressing a preference. IMHO, there seem to be two takes on this.

1. We are a sensitive company, and want to avoid social bias or discrimination

If so, the issue in the first instance is not due to the choice of UI widget (radio button, select list, or three-position toggles). It is the fact that all the examples use "Male/Female" sequencing, which is conventional but not unbiased.

Most English speakers are naturally more comfortable with Male/Female than Female/Male. Is that gender bias? Most definitely, but in English there is perhaps also a phonetic issue. Even when silently reading, you may stumble as you scan Female/Male since the transition to the bilabial nasal of the "m" of male is uncomfortable whether you say "fe-male-an-d-male","fe-male-or-male" or "fe-male-male". Note that many languages don't have the same phonetic problem e.g. Chinese: nán/nǚ (男/女).

Combining the recommendations of others, I'd suggest that if the object is to avoid disriminatory presentation of sensitive questions like gender, race or religion, there are perhaps four things to consider (regardless of which UI control to use):

  • present the selection with an order whose logic derives from a neutral attribute of the options e.g. alphabetical
  • ensure full representation of all valid options, to avoid selection bias
  • provide an opt-out/other for those who find the question too sensitive or intrusive
  • don't pre-select any option

2. It's a Data Quality issue

i.e. people are providing dud answers, and we suspect the order of presentation is a factor.

How do we know if this is a real issue? The best way is to test it e.g. run A/B tests for a sampling of respondents to investigate if there is a statistically significant variation that can only be explained by answer order.

For objective/factual questions like gender, it is hard to understand how order alone can explain or fix a problem with "wrong" answers. It is much more likely that the root cause is either:

  • I don't understand the question,
  • I don't understand why you are asking or need to know, and I might even be intentionally answering incorrectly
  • It's more effort for me to answer correctly than any payoff I think I'll get

For subjective questions, answer order may again be a minor factor amongst many. For example, ask "Who is your favourite team?", and answers may be even more skewed by the color scheme of the page, especially if you are also showing team colors inline.

  • Well-considered answer that deserves a little more attention. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 14:14

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