Axis of time: up/down rather than right/left?

Jameson "Chema" Quinn jquinn at
Thu Feb 21 16:21:43 EST 2008

I understand that the following proposal is radical and that it is perhaps
too late. If that's so, I'm sure that this list will have no trouble coming
to that conclusion. I think it is worth at least considering the

There are several places in an interface where there is a spacial metaphor
for time: in the undo/redo icons; in the forward/back buttons for browse; in
the play/FF/Rev buttons on a media player; in the journal list view; and
probably a few others I'm forgetting. Generally, icons use a left/right axis
to represent time, and lists use an up/down one, with the top being most
recent (a growth/stack/strata model, the opposite of a text/freefall model).
The problem with left/right is that it is biased towards LTR languages (or
it requires extra L10N work), and it inevitably inconsistent with the
up/down axis necessary for lists.

It would not actually be especially difficult to redo the relevant icons to
represent an up/down axis, and I think that it would make our platform more
internally consistent and more international.

 (Also, the folding screen makes it easy to conceptualize up/down as
forward/back, in whichever direction is conveient for the culture - western
cultures walk towards the future, while in Japan it approches one from
behind. I'm not an expert, but I've heard that ASL and JSL use these
forward/back axes for representing time, while in Ghana Sign Language the
up/down axis of a growing tree or the arc of the sun are used.)
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