We have several tables in our software and for most of them there's the possibility to sort the entries. When opening a new view with a table there's also a default sorting for most cases, which means that the table entries are already sorted by one of the columns and within that column in a certain direction.

The user is able to change the sorting (column as well as direction) by clicking on a column header.

Now the question is: Is it better to show a sorting indicator by default or only after the user interacted with the column header?

Possible advantage of showing it by default:

-The user doesn't have to find out for himself which of the columns is defining the default sort order.

Possible advantage of showing it only after active sorting:

-The user is able to see if he/she changed the default sort order manually by getting a visual feedback (indicator appears after clicking the table header).

  • I don't get how showing the default sort precludes you from showing the custom sort after a click.
    – paparazzo
    Jun 26, 2015 at 17:28

3 Answers 3


I know from experience that it's better to add a default sort indicator. For example, many of our users didn't realised the table columns are sortable and didn't even tried to sort them if there was no indicator. So we were receiving constant questions/suggestions to make the columns sortable.

Our solution was to add default sort indicators like this:

If the column is unsorted: enter image description here

If the column is sorted descending or ascending by default: enter image description here or enter image description here

And if the column is not sortable, we don't show any indicator

We didn't got anymore feedback/questions from the clients if the columns are sortable ever since.

  • This seems to be a very clear solution. The only disadvantage could be that there would be more "visual clutter" in the table header. And you are also not able to see if you changed the initial default sort order after opening the view (just in case you can't remember - although I'm still not sure if this "reminder indicator" can really be something a user needs, but just in case...)
    – Gabriele
    Jun 26, 2015 at 12:27
  • By the way, this is how Jquery Datatables handles it if you want to see how it would look. datatables.net
    – DasBeasto
    Jun 26, 2015 at 14:43

I know this issue is a bit old, but I thought I'd contribute. The best way that users are also used to due to their OSes is having an arrow indicator ONLY on the sorted column to show direction, and no indicator at all the rest of the columns.

enter image description here


If clicking a second time would reverse the order, the user still recieves visual feedback when he wants to sort on the default column. Wouldn't this combine both advantages?

  • I agree, for an immediate visual feedback that should be enough. I was thinking about the difference between the states "This is the default sort order" and "This is the sort order I changed manually" (maybe after the user got disrupted for a few minutes and continues his work now). It might be clearer to represent these states by "no visual indicator there" and "visual indicator there". But maybe this is just going too much into detail, I'm not sure...
    – Gabriele
    Jun 26, 2015 at 9:54

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