In a system where the current development uses a red-yellow-green rating (where red is bad, green is good and yellow could easily fall in any of these categories), what could be a better wording?

My problem is that yellow could be: average, slightly falling short, close to fail.

Obviously, by using 5 or more positions for this rating, or a numerical scale I'd solve this problem easily, but that's the reason of my problem: this is NOT an option because we have no access to backend and their coding algorithm only "spits" this 3 options set.

To make things more complex, this is actually based on numerical stats (I know, I know). To make things clearer: in an 1-10 scale, Red would be something like under 3.00, yellow something between 3.01 and 6.00 and green 6.01 to 10. Getting to green doesn't necessarily mean the user wins anything, but s/he is in track. However, falling to red implies a real loss in terms of personal validation as well as a financial loss, so it's kind of a big deal.

Please note that the 3 positions rating cannot be changed, only the wording on front end, however, we could abandon the color based rating for something else. What could be a better option for this, specially for yellow?

  • Are labels necessary? If the values are shown, and users understand them, you might not need to explicitly name the ranges. My rating of 2.0 is red, yours of 4.0 is yellow, and someone else's of 8.5 is green. We know by the color and the value which ones are good and bad and... whatever. Oct 12, 2015 at 20:07
  • I don't have the numeric values, only the strings "red, yellow, green" which I would replace for something more appropriate. Otherwise, you're correct, I'd use the numeric values associated to these strings instead of (or in conjunction with) labels
    – Devin
    Oct 12, 2015 at 20:11
  • Yuck, @Devin, that's really unfortunate. Oct 12, 2015 at 20:13

4 Answers 4


Try mediocre, middling, below average, suboptimal, needs work, or go ask on English.SE for more synonyms.

You could also use graphics instead of text, which could be emoticons (smile/frown/meh), arrows (up/down/right), thumbs (up/down/nothing), etc.

Just make sure you don't only rely on color. That's a major accessibility violation.

  • If the brand supports it, I think the emoticon idea works well: :-) :-| :-( Nov 11, 2015 at 22:33


2 - a : being or occurring in the middle

3 : situated between the extremes of initial and final in a word or morpheme


May be too uncommon for normal users though, I feel like average will suit fine.

  • ah, I was writing an addendum to the question at the same moment you answered, sorry. The problem here is the range covered by the current yellow status: it's not the same being yellow with 3.01 that being yellow with 5.99 value since being at 3.01 means "close to a loss". To make it worse, I don't even get the numerical values, because I could simply use the num values and call it a day. Just a string with red, yellow green as possible values. Quite frankly, I'm close to call this a no solution dilemma, trying here as last resource
    – Devin
    Oct 12, 2015 at 19:48
  • 1
    Ah I see, I think you may be out of luck I don't see a way to make 1 value determine two separate states. So unless you could send two requests to the API to split it up and have yellow be "in the middle" and then they click that and it gives them 3 different middle states ("close-to-win", "close-to-loss", "dead center") but frankly it sounds easier to get a different API that allows more than the 3 option response.
    – DasBeasto
    Oct 12, 2015 at 19:53

You could try something entirely visual, by displaying one of these bars, along with a question that identifies what is being scored.

Examples of scores


as far as i understand, even if there are no severe consequences, yellow is not really enough, so I would use one positive and two negative states. Yellow is a poor/decent state, red a complete disaster.

depending on the domain, find something like

  • healtyh / sick / deadly injuried
  • fast / slow / motionless
  • fresh / moldy / rotten

(english is not my language, so I'not sure if moldy / rotten are percieved as one poor and the other as a complete disaster, but I hope you get the idea anyway)

edit: if you can provide some more context maybe we can find the proper words :)

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