Imagine a curtain, and two strings. Pulling one string brings it down, pulling the other brings it up. Usually in office environments, these two strings are the same color and this makes it so users pull the wrong string 50% of the time.

Any color ideas for these strings to illustrate Up and Down, if there are any? I'm aware that just giving them two different colors would solve the problem once the user learns which one does what thing, but any way to help a first time user?

  • 17
    Curtains open sideways; I suspect you're asking about blinds. But I've never seen a blind with a string to pull for up and another for down: all the ones I've seen are roller blinds with a single loop of string, or Venetian blinds with a pair of strings (for some reason I've never understood) joined together and a ratchet mechanism that means you pull the strings to raise the blind and un-ratchet them to allow the blind to lower itself under its own weight. Sep 4, 2015 at 20:18
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    From the title alone I would say blue and brown, but as always, context matters.
    – zzzzBov
    Sep 4, 2015 at 23:40
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    Keep in mind that many can't see red or green.
    – Rimian
    Sep 5, 2015 at 9:35
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    The more I thought about this question, I realized I don't know what kind of blinds you are actually talking about. I can't think of any blinds that operate with a two-separate string process where one raises, one lowers. They're usually two strings working together in tandem or they are a continuous pulley. So now I'm curious: what kind of blinds are we talking about?
    – DA01
    Sep 5, 2015 at 16:22
  • 3
    @DA01 He provided the context verbally, just because you can convert his words into images in your head doesn't mean it isn't a UX question or there would be a "Must provide pictures" rule.
    – DasBeasto
    Sep 9, 2015 at 19:58

15 Answers 15


With your examples of Curtains, I would go with Black and White.

Easy psychology and Cosmetic.


If it's too bright in the day, you'll happen to easily see the Black beads/string and it also means pulling it down will darken the room.


If it's getting too dark, White will be easier to notice and will signify that pulling it will lighten the room.

I'm not an Interior designer, but it wouldn't blend in with the curtain colors as well to confuse the user.

  • Nice idea. This also ensures that the curtains won't clash with any existing color scheme in the room.
    – Peter
    Sep 4, 2015 at 15:25
  • Yes, exactly. I normally see beads today with curtains having White. They could only make the other end Black. Sep 4, 2015 at 15:25
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    +1 a nice bonus is you could have the same convention for horizontal blinds. Black -> darker -> blinds close / move closer together, white -> lighter -> blinds open / move further apart. I doubt anyone would guess the meaning first time, but it'd help people remember 2nd and 3rd+ time. Sep 4, 2015 at 19:32
  • Wow! I didn't think of that at all! Brilliant! Sep 5, 2015 at 6:32
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    Thank you! Far too often folks forget about us color-blind people! :-)
    – Taptronic
    Sep 7, 2015 at 1:09

No, I don't think that any colors inherently represent up and down. But I'll take a stab in the dark here:

1. White/Black

Since in this particular case you're asking about a curtain in an office environment, I assume it will be used to block a window, in turn blocking out light. So when the user pulls the curtain down it will get darker and when they pull it up it will get brighter. So White can represent up for the brightness and black can be down for darkness.

2. Red/Blue

Heat rises, heat is represented by red. So to represent the string to raise the curtain, make that string red. Blue being cold, being the opposite of the rising heat, will represent the string that lowers the curtain.

Let me be perfectly clear, I do not think either of these will help first time users too much, I think they may be just slightly better than the two strings of the same color.

  • haha beat me to it by a second
    – Stanley VM
    Sep 4, 2015 at 15:27
  • +1 Red/Blue may be better for dark environments since a black string may be difficult to see. Sep 4, 2015 at 21:16
  • For me: blue = noon; red -> sunset -> down
    – user11153
    Sep 7, 2015 at 8:04
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    Heat doesn't rise, hot fluid rises; and I don't think the logic of this colour coding would be obvious to many people.
    – nekomatic
    Sep 7, 2015 at 8:37
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    The bigger issue, IMHO, is I now have red and blue strings on all my windows. Now I have to get matching pillows. :)
    – DA01
    Sep 8, 2015 at 4:32

It doesn't matter. All that matters is that they are different so the user can differentiate them.

There is no particular color combo to correlate with up and down. You could come up with a number of them, but they wouldn't be in any way universally agreed upon.

If you want maximum differentiation, then black and white.

But note that you're also going to have an aesthetic challenge here. Window blinds are both functional and aesthetic items. People probably don't want colored strings hanging from their windows. :)

  • I do see a clear correlation: up = open = let the day light in = white, down = close = keep the night out or simulate the night during the day = black. Another similar correlation is up = air = light blue or white, down = earth = brown or black
    – anneb
    Sep 8, 2015 at 1:43
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    @anneb there are plenty of correlations we can come up with individually. But they aren't going to be universally intuitive. Also keep in mind that blinds serve multiple purposes. It's not just about blocking light, but also blocking views. Some blinds are opaque, some are translucent. Etc.
    – DA01
    Sep 8, 2015 at 4:27

I do not think the colors themselves are as important as their contrast. Shouldn't a good UI mimic the natural environment as much as possible? If so, since, generally, lighter colors are up and darker colors are down, a lighter color for up and a darker one for down seems appropriate.

  • Specifically, sky blue for up and midnight blue for down would seem very appropriate, like turning the light levels up and down respectively.
    – Alnitak
    Sep 4, 2015 at 17:42
  • Sky blue for up and the color of the walls would also be a good choice (if the walls aren't white anyway) - pull the blue cord to make the room become brighter and bluer, pull the orange cord, and the light reflecting off the orange paint on the walls will take over. Sep 4, 2015 at 23:22

I would go with the string shape. I'd make it like so:

  ||     __||__
  /\     \    /
 /  \     \  /
/_  _\     \/
  ||     __||__
  /\     \    /
 /  \     \  /
/_  _\     \/
  ||       ||

The concept modeled here is the "right direction" (appropriate). If you touch the string and slide your fingers along it you receive tactile feedback: smooth or harsh.

The harsh one could be intuitively seen as the bad one. The smooth as the proper one. I would then encode that pulling in the "right" direction would translate to the same movement of curtain. If the curtain is up and someone pulls down, using the right string, then the curtains go down.

  • Are you saying you've pictured the down string? Sep 9, 2015 at 1:18
  • What do I do with that string? Do the arrows mean I need to let that string up? Or is it saying that if I pull it in the opposite direction of the arrows, the blinds will move in that direction? (Point being this isn't necessarily intuitive).
    – DA01
    Sep 9, 2015 at 1:25
  • @SamuelEdwinWard: Yes, it was the down string. I've added the up string as well.
    – Rekin
    Sep 9, 2015 at 5:05
  • @DA01: Good point, there is a second competing concept here, which could confuse the user. Originally I was thinking about "a surface with different smoothness depending on the direction" and the arrows are just one possible shape. Like a cat's fur, there is certainly one right direction if you want to please it
    – Rekin
    Sep 9, 2015 at 5:06
  • I have another idea! What if we can design a string, which has drastically different friction depending on the direction? The cat fur is exactly that. If we had such strings, we could grab both strings, apply some down force. Naturally, we apply the force evenly on both strings, but because of the friction differences, it is applied unevenly - such that the high friction string moves with the hand and the low friction one moves against the hand direction.
    – Rekin
    Sep 10, 2015 at 13:52

Taking a cue from elevators:

  • White or green for up
  • Red for down

elevator arrows

  • As that graphic shows, the colors are universally applied. Perhaps it's a regional thing?
    – DA01
    Sep 9, 2015 at 1:26
  • This also has strong stock market connotation which is hardwired in many people's brains Jul 8, 2020 at 12:04

red for up ( hot air rises ) blue for down ( cool air settles ) you can also create arrow like patterns on the string to reinforce the message.

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    What does hot air have to do with it? I would have guessed blue for heaven and red for hell. Sep 5, 2015 at 16:40
  • @200_success red is hot, and hot air rises. Blue is cool, and cool air settles. Thus red is up and blue is down. Sep 7, 2015 at 8:38
  • @JacobRaihle But hot air is clear, and cold air is also clear. The association is non-obvious, and alternate associations exist, making it a poor UX design choice. Sep 7, 2015 at 8:44
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    @200_success we arent all religious you know,you can say you associate blue with the water and red with tomatoes,therefore it doesn't make sense in your opinion. In UX the main goal is to make an interface easy to understand for the majority of people. Sep 8, 2015 at 5:17
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    @downrep_nation THANK YOU! i found it weird that my association was less credible....none of these examples are great as it is not something that exists, at this point it is about conditioning the user more so than making any right association.
    – Stanley VM
    Sep 8, 2015 at 13:48

I think Green and Red would work.

People could associate them with thumbs up and thumbs down, and thus curtain up / curtain down. I believe everyone has seen a green thumbs up and red thumbs down button or similar, so they could get it right the first time.

The negative side is, that the red/green might also associate good with green and bad with red.

  • 4
    Except green/red is the most common of all colorblindess.
    – Todilo
    Sep 8, 2015 at 10:44

Thinking outside the box, but you could add physical arrows to the strings. Or you could have a paper behind the strings that shows which string is which.


Why don't make the one string thicker and the other string slim with the black/white color code in one of the answers here.

Usually on mechanically operated curtains which opens up and down side, closing it takes less effort than opening it because when closing it all comes down, so gravitational force helps them to close and come down.

It will only take user less than 10 seconds to figure out, why one thick and the other is slim.

Hope you are getting my point. Also you are taking care of the blinds and color blinds with this solution


I have four suggestions with various reasons:

  1. blue and green.

Blue = sky = up Green = grass = down

  1. For places unfamiliar with blue skies and green grass

Brown = smog = up Grey = road = down

  1. from traffic lights

Red = above = up Green = below = down

  1. Final suggestion from rainbows

Red = first color = up Violet = last color = down

Of course glow in the dark dye will be immensely useful in this context.

  • 1
    Brown = smog = up Grey = road = down not sure if thats sad or not, but i would never understand brown is up. and i know what living in a smog covered city is like... also most people know the sky is blue Sep 8, 2015 at 14:14
  • Blue sky/Green grass may be semi-intuitive (about as much as any of these colors can signify) but the rest of these I would have no idea unless you explained them to me. (i.e. brown could be wood/gray could be smoke rising from it so opposite direction of your interpretation, violet has a higher frequency than red so should be up comparatively, etc.) Although I like the creative thinking.
    – DasBeasto
    Sep 8, 2015 at 15:10
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    I think the fact that you have 4 suggestions somewhat shows that there are no universal colors for this. :)
    – DA01
    Sep 9, 2015 at 1:27

Directions aren't typically associated with colours ever, so whatever you pick will be arbitrary. However, if you make it obvious which one you have to pull to make it go up or down (the natural thing would be to pull the higher of the two), that would no doubt help 1st time users immensely.


I thought it might be able to signify the opening of the curtains through effectively mini images of the curtains opening. You have the curtains as a dark colour and then a light colour between then slowly expands between each section of the rope.

This assumes it being one continuous cord rather than two separate cords.

However I think you could split it in the middle and have on one half on one rope and the other half on the other rope.

enter image description here


I would use:

Blue = Up Green = Down

Blue is the sky. Green is the grass.

  • That's a good first thought but can you expand on that. Any testing of this idea? Any research of how it's interpreted by users?
    – Mayo
    Jul 23, 2016 at 12:11
  • @Mayo I'm not aware of any testing of these colors for this application. It's a first gut instinct. If I were "trem", I would be focusing on a movement solution or a more explicit visual solution. Regarding movement for example, if the user's cursor passes over the up button, it could bounce up slightly. Jul 23, 2016 at 14:01

When talking about general terms like up and down there is no real color associated with those words.

If you want the user to experience something on your site you have to set up the rules from the moment they enter. If this were me I would try this.

Have the images or graphics on you page contain a vertical css gradient. An example would be to start with the top being blue and the bottom being green.

Doing this sets a precedent for the user and gives your concept validation and anyone navigates your site.

This will be your global rule for up and down on your site. Try it with various elements (menu bar, icon background color, site background etc). Then when you create your up and down elements you have a basis and validation for your design.


  • 1
    Hi, I downvoted this answer as it doesn't really explain why a gradient of those colors helps represent up and down. Also as a lesser point, in this particular question it appears he is searching for more of a physical representation (not on a computer) so this answer isn't entirely relevant, but my main issue is the lack of explanation.
    – DasBeasto
    Sep 10, 2015 at 13:48
  • Too bad I am being marked down so heavily for this. I was only trying to help. I just started a few days ago and this is a very discouraging experience. I should have just kept my opinions to myself.
    – riotgear
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:26
  • @user3174713 Don't be discouraged, downvotes are a very common and necessary part of the StackExchange experience. I'm a very active member and have posted many questions and answers and have had them downvoted regularly. You can't take it personally it is just the only way to regulate and make this a successful site. Your answer is helpful, especially after the edit (very appreciated), just not the best answer for this particular question so this answer goes down and the best answer goes up.
    – DasBeasto
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:34
  • 1
    Ok thank you. I will still try an give better answers!
    – riotgear
    Sep 11, 2015 at 14:34

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