I saw on a website's feedback widget that provides a rating scale using a combination of '-' and '+' symbols to replicate a five point rating scale. Even though it is not common practice to indicate the rating to the scale directly (e.g. 0 can be a positive or negative rating depending on how you order the scale), in this case I actually found it quite intuitive as to what rating I am providing without thinking about the scale itself.

Even with the common star rating you have to think about what each number means to make sure you provide the right input.

enter image description here

Are there other people with experiences using alternatives to the numbered or starred rating scale? Is there any research or anecdote to suggest that this might be more user friendly?

  • First of all, - - indicates to me much more negative then 1star rating, since giving a star means there is something you like. Then using a numbered rating you should as you say indicate a scale, which would require thinking. So i can only say that it depends on the situation
    – Yakke
    Mar 9, 2016 at 18:37
  • @Yakke Sure, it depends on the situation, but I am interested to know whether you think the symbols in general is easier to pick up and orient your rating compared to numbers, especially if you have a few of them to go through. I am also interested to know if it is more meaningful or if the '+' and '-' together as a neutral rating is confusing.
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 9, 2016 at 22:01
  • Uh, the button in the middle should say -+, not +-!
    – unor
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:53
  • @unor Yes, probably... but since this was on an IBM website I don't want to question their HCI design decision/rationale here.
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 11, 2016 at 23:57

1 Answer 1


Symbols become meaningful because they represent something to us in the real world or are so frequently encountered that we accept their meaning, even if they seem completely abstract. I think the + and - idea is interesting, but this is foreign to most people and will take time for them to parse. For example, just the comments alone around -+ or +- or whether that should be represented as "0" is bound to also create confusion for users trying to make sense of this. Unfortunately, these are not symbols that mean good or bad in our visual language today.

Being uncommon is not a singular fault. It's that in combination with the potential for symbolic confusion. Does -- actually mean that it is negatively impacting me? Or does it mean it is just bad? Does -+ mean that it is both positively and negatively impacting me? Or does it mean neutral?

That's why numbers 1 through 5 work so well. We see them everywhere for app ratings or Yelp ratings and there is a widely accepted understanding of 1 is less than 5. 3 is in the middle. It's straightforward and it has very low cognitive load.

  • If it is just the + an - that's confusing, how about a :) and :( as emoticons? I think numbers are confusing because you have to consider it in the context of the question being asked, and then flip the ratings around accordingly (but that's probably because the person who designed the question didn't think about it). Or they don't want the users to get lazy and just keep clicking without reading.
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 20, 2016 at 22:11
  • I think you'd still have a symbol problem. What is the in between state for smilies at position "2" and "4"? It's doable, but could mean different things to different people. Here's a take: D: :( :| :) :D I think the faces would work well for an illiterate audience, so yeah! I think there is some value in that over numbers and -+. Mar 22, 2016 at 8:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.