Re: [Usability] List View Column Header Sorting

On Sun, 2007-02-25 at 13:41 +0100, Thorsten Wilms wrote:
> Following the criticism, here's a number of variations on 
> indicating multiple selection order without column reordering:
> In this example, no sorting can happen on size and date (filenames, 
> having to be unique in every folder, are a terminator). So I left 
> out any indicator there. The alternative would be a disabled state 
> (grayed-out).

Hmm, I wonder if allowing some columns to be non-sortable really adds
much, other than complexity to both the visual and conceptual model.  Is
there really ever any reason to actively prevent the user from sorting
by a particular column if they really want to?  If it doesn't make
conceptual sense to sort a particular column, chances are they just
won't bother trying anyway.  And if they happen to try a non-sortable
column first, they might well assume that the whole table is

On the visual design front, rather than using big numbers to indicate
sort order, I guess a more subtle alternative might be to use a
superscript number after the column label instead (i.e.
"Type<sup>1</sup>").  Although admittedly then people might start asking
where the footnotes were :)

(FWIW, on the odd occasion that I've designed tables with primary and
secondary sort orders, I've just used a solid black triangle for the
primary column, and an outline triangle for the secondary.  This
obviously limits you to two sort keys, though... although that probably
does cover the majority of uses.)

> One way the interaction could work:
> - Clicking any column header makes that column the primary for
> sorting.
> - If it is already the primary, sorting direction is reversed. 
> - Columns loosing primary status keep their sorting direction.
> - Sorting is applied in sequence of column selection.

One thing that's not clear to me, then, is "once I've selected <n>
sorted columns (where n=2 in your mockups), how do I go back to using
zero or one (or any number < n) sorted columns?"

(The HIG's current Sorting section suggests one possible answer, i.e.
that the columns have two rather than three sorted states, "sorted",
"reverse sorted" and "unsorted", and clicking the column or arrow cycles
between all three states.  That brings other interaction problems when
you're allowing more than one sorted column though.)

> A variation on this would make the direction indicators  
> separate target areas, allowing to change direction without 
> changing sequence. (Ruling out the last variation on the mockup)

Hmm, this could work a little better for mouse users I guess, if the
target size was sufficiently large, but it could make column header
keynav a bit messy :/


CALUM BENSON, Usability Engineer       Sun Microsystems Ireland
mailto:calum benson sun com            GNOME Desktop Group                      +353 1 819 9771

Any opinions are personal and not necessarily those of Sun Microsystems

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