I have a list or rows (from 20 to 120K, incrementally loaded as the user scrolls down), each showing n columns. The list is sorted by default using one of the n columns and I have a sort dropdown which can be used to change that. I wish to let the user sort that list of rows using a criterion that is not displayed within the currently-shown columns.

What would be the criteria to decide whether or not this (allowing the use of a sort criterion for which the associated value is not displayed on screen) is acceptable ?

The sort dropdown looks like this:

Display: Most recently received first

and the values that are available would look like this:

Most recently received first
Least recently received first
Most recent action first
Least recent action first

The "Action" timestamp is not displayed on screen.

  • What values will you put into the sort drop-down?
    – SteveD
    May 4, 2016 at 9:18
  • added context to my question to answer your comment
    – mathieu
    May 4, 2016 at 11:00
  • So you have 2 criterion - Received and Action, and in both cases it looks like you are just sorting by date. So which one is is not displayed in the columns? Also what sort of volumes are we looking at?
    – SteveD
    May 4, 2016 at 11:24
  • the date display is "Action". Typical numbers of rows range from 10 to 120K, incrementally loaded on scroll.
    – mathieu
    May 9, 2016 at 11:14

2 Answers 2


There's a strong convention of being able to sort tables by clicking on column headers. It has lots of benefits: direct manipulation, easier to communicate how the data is ordered (e.g., highlight the entire column), you see the actual values (and it seems safe to assume that if you sort by a column it's important to you and so you'd benefit from seeing its values). I think there's little value of being able to sort rows by an invisible column.

For these reasons I'd suggest to remove the drop-down and introduce a UI control that enables users to control (add/remove) which columns are shown on screen. Couple that with the ability to order by clicking on column headers and a clear visual of which column is used to order the data. Also, indicate if the order is ascending or descending.


As long as the values in the sort drop-down are meaningful to the user, then I don't see any major problems, however, if you are going to offer a sort based on some value you should really show that value in the row so that the user receives re-enforcement about their choice. If you don't do this then the user might not realise what happened, i.e. this could cause confusion.

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