Upside-down triangles

The little sorting triangle in the column-header on ledger tables is upside-down.

When sorting in ascending order, Manager’s sort-triangle points downwards ▼ (small end down) instead of upwards ▲ (large end down):

When sorting in descending order, Manager’s sort-triangle points upwards ▲ (small end up) instead of downwards ▼ (large end up):

The triangle is indicating the next action that will occur if the column heading is clicked not the current/past action, therefore if your list is already in ascending order then the triangle will indicate that it will convert the column list to descending order if the column heading is clicked.

I had never noticed the direction an arrow points in any sorted list before. But after looking at various operating system file list displays, online bank statements, email programs, and so forth, there is apparently an accepted standard that the direction of the arrow matches the current display state, not some future state. And in Manager, one does not click the arrow itself to change sort direction but rather the word heading of the column.

In every example I could find, the arrow points in the direction of the lesser, earlier, or alphabetically preceding entries. (All of these would be represented numerically by the smaller number.) This does indeed correspond to an upwards-pointing arrow when the sort is ascending and a downwards-pointing arrow when the sort is descending, just as @jon pointed out.

So far, I have found no references that define a standard. If you search the internet on the phrase “sort direction arrow standard” you will see that the question has been discussed on several other forums, but with no real resolution beyond noting what has been standardized within a given operating system or application. So perhaps Manager’s current convention is a legitimate as the opposite would be. Several of the online discussions point out that many common applications use other symbols entirely to signal sort direction.

From the Microsoft Ux Design Guidelines:

This is the type of thing I meant when referring to standardization within an operating system or application. You may have noted, however, that even this official guidance from Microsoft does not actually address the symbol. It only addresses behaviors for sorting.

There are two ways to think about the triangles:

  1. The triangles are actually little arrows. When the arrows ascend (ie, point up) ▲, the displayed sort-order is ascending (A to Z, 0 to 9, January to December). When the arrows descend (ie, point down)▼, the displayed sort-order is descending (Z to A, 9 to 0, December to January).
  • The triangles represent a stack of items like a Tower of Hanoi toy. An upwards-pointing triangle ▲ represents a stack with the narrowest (ie, smallest) item on top and the widest (ie, largest) item on the bottom, hence an ascending list. A downwards-pointing triangle ▼ represents a stack with the widest (ie, largest) item on the top and the narrowest (ie, smallest) item on the bottom, hence a descending list.

The displayed state of the triangle/arrow should reflect the displayed state of the table at the moment, not the eventual state should the control be clicked. Think of a physical toggle switch like an illuminated on/off button on a computer. When the button is lit up, it means the computer is on. The button’s appearance represents the current state of the switch, not the action pressing the button will have.

I think we’re debating something that is firmly established within the Ux community and across a multitude of applications on many platforms, practically universally. Even in this very forum, the standard that is clearly deployed is as I have described:

Descending sort, ▼ downwards triangle/arrow/chevron:

Ascending sort, ▲ upwards triangle/arrow/chevron:

Maybe you have misunderstood me, @Jon; I can’t tell for sure. To be absolutely clear, I agree with everything you say, from the difference between Manager’s internal convention and this Discourse Forum’s convention, to the near universality of which way triangles point, to the two visual interpretations of the triangles and the way they lead to consistent pointing directions, to the Microsoft Ux design guidelines.

My only original point was that I could find no design standard that explicitly addressed the triangles’ orientation. Every standard or guideline I can find, including the Ux guidelines you mentioned, addresses sorting behavior, not sort triangle symbology. And some of the discussion forums cover the very confusion being discussed in this thread and ways other applications (such as Microsoft Excel) have avoided it by not using triangles.

So we are definitely on the same page. I am just curious how so many app developers got to the same place in the apparent absence of a standard.

Here is the official Ux design guidance from Microsoft:

You can also include a graphic image with a text label to illustrate information about column item attributes. When you do, make sure they properly communicate the current state of the column items. For example, a downward pointing arrow graphic used to indicate sort order should indicate descending sort order. When sorting by date on U.S. system configurations, this means that the contents of the column should be sorted with the most recent item first.

Source: Microsoft Windows User Experience: Official Guidelines for User Interface Developers and Designers [emphasis added].

(A older copy of the book is available as a PDF file from the first hit in this Google search. The section quoted above is the last paragraph on page 143 in the PDF file.)

Now that we’ve finished (apparently) with the academic discussion: @Lubos, do you have an opinion on this? If you agree with the Microsoft Windows Ux guidance, will you adjust the triangles so they point the other way? Thank you.

Yeah, I agree with you @Jon. Fixed in the latest version (16.8.10).

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