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In many UIs, there is a list of items that each have a time stamp, for example a list of news stories or e-mails. When there are many items or only one item is displayed at a time, it could be a multi-page list. In these lists, the button labeled "previous" often shows the item(s) that were published just a bit later in time than what's currently being viewed, and the "next" button shows item(s) earlier in time than what's currently being viewed. The < and > buttons go opposite the "forward in time / backward in time" direction they would with a timeline metaphor, which might accompany terms like "previous" and "next."

If this were just on a small site somewhere, I would chalk it up to what seems to me to be counterintuitive labeling / bad UX design, but I see it on enough big sites that make me wonder...is this really considered a best practice? If so, why?


Some examples:

University of Michigan press releases:

eBay messages (individual message view):

Google Voice:

Yahoo Blog (Tumblr):

  • I guess its because we read from left to right and once we're at the bottom right we're finishef and want to see the next item. – BlueWizard Feb 13 '16 at 14:34
  • At least the eBay and Google examples place those arrows and labels at the top of the page. – WBT Feb 13 '16 at 14:48
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Next goes forward because it's using a standard of pagination.

You have pages of results and the pages are supposed to match how you would go through a book, so left to right.

Edit: However what you have here are pages of results, not just pages in a book. These results can be sorted in any order but you still then go left to right.

It's the same as if you had a table of data sorted by date order descending. The next page of results would give you older data but it's still the next page.

  • Generally, when I add new material to a book that is about some chronological sequence and I'm adding information about something that happened later in time, I add it to the END of a book, rather than adding it to the beginning and changing all the page numbers thereafter. The usual order of a chronologically sequenced book is starting with what happened first and finishing with what happened last, and that is why the "previous" and "next" words (associated with time) match page order the way they do, rather than the other way around. I think you may have a causal arrow flipped here. – WBT Feb 12 '16 at 15:18
  • @WBT The pages of a book is purely the base analogy. What you're showing is 'pages' of results from a search query. – icc97 Feb 12 '16 at 17:46
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My previous UX designer and I just talked about this, in the discussion of which side should back/cancel and next/submit go, where he supplied this gem that should help answer your question: http://www.svennerberg.com/2008/09/the-use-of-buttons-in-web-forms/

If the designers had built it so that 'next' indicates going back in time slightly, then the only problem is that the arrow is t specific enough to describe that. That's why gmail uses "older" and "newer" when describing navigation between pages. There is technically a "next" and "previous" batch of data pieces to view, but under the guise of time, arrows aren't specific enough.

From my experience I'd guess that sites that do this simply haven't found it a problem enough to change. People get it pretty quick after a single failure, which isn't good UX, but if you have limited time to develop, things like this fall into the icebox indefinitely. Furthermore, a dev team is likely to have built it with arrow navigation like this purely for speed, and then it never got updated.

Hurray the real world.

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