Temporal Orientation: Left-to-right as time progresses?

22 Jul 2010 - 2:23am
6 years ago
5 replies
846 reads
Calvin C. Chan

Recent UI update preview of Flickr's photo page shows that they will change the chronological order when navigating the photo thumbnails. In the new design, newest thumbnail is shown on the left, then older items are trailing on it's right side. Originally, left-to-right is aligned to older-to-newer.

My question is, which orientation of "time" is more natural to you? When navigating chronological items:


  1. (a) should older items prepend to the left of the current item, or
  2. (b) older items append to the right of the current item?


I blog about the Flickr update and some of my observations at http://www.calvin-c.com/blog/tag/time-axis.

To try the new UI preview on Flickr yourself:


  • enabling preview: login first then visit this link: http://www.flickr.com/photobetaoptin/
  • disabling preview: visit this link: http://www.flickr.com/photobetaoptout/



22 Jul 2010 - 9:05pm

I don't know about you, but I certainly think left to right makes more sense, oldest to newest.

If you think about all the ways we measure and look at time, calendars move left to right (ok, and vertically), older to newer, timelines almost always have the oldest date on the left hand side, and any other time we records time (such as on graphs or charts), the oldest time is generally on the left.....

However, I wonder if it's not really about time in itself - the other idea is of course, you have probably already seen the older images, and so I wouldn't mind guessing that the idea is to give the user the images that they may not have seen first...


> > > >

23 Jul 2010 - 4:42am

This is not images, but this timeline confused me for bit, as I could not find what I was looking for where I expected to find it:http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/timeline-interactive

I also find that the little icons with feet add to the confusion of time, as they point "back" in time. Aren't most timelines the other way, or vertical? Opinions?


23 Jul 2010 - 8:51am

I think this is totally culture specific. Western cultures read left to right. From this viewpoint a left to right temporal flow makes absolute sense. Anything else could be quite confusing. In China on the other hand, it might not make sense. Of course Quantum physics looks at all points of time as existing simultaneuosly s from that POV you should just stack everything on top of each other. As an interface it might not be ideal however.

23 Jul 2010 - 5:35pm
Susan Oslin

Its all about context.  Flickr is about sharing photos, its not about tracking time like a calendar.  Why select a calendar as a model for photo sharing? 

What is the most useful user experience?  What are the goals of the user?  If the photos are ordered from earlier to latest, left to right then they are ALWAYS going to see the same photos and ALWAYS have to scroll to see new ones.  This isn't the best user experience. 

Consider a very popular Flickraccount with thougsands of photos.  Do you really want to scroll to infinity to see the latest work?  Doesn't it make sense to make the oldest photos the ones that require the most work to access?

24 Jul 2010 - 9:12am


I have to say that I've always disliked FlickR's UI.  Maybe dislike is too harsh a word, where possibly confused by it would be more accurate.  Here is my beef.   Before I had my own account  (you can see some firey goodness http://tinyurl.com/2c8kx8w)  I'd get links to a photoset  and be dropped on a page with one big photo and two little ones on the right.  I didn't get, nor do I  get the need for a photostream in this context.  I'm in a Set for darn sake.  Give me the universal links back to the album overview and to the previous and next photos. That's all I really need. To expect a user understand that they are at the end of a stream is very presumpuous.

This is also where design comes in. I love a good minimalistic UI, but when you are using a metaphor about a stream I'd think this is where one could leverage that a tiny bit?? :)  Oh, and while I am talking about those two buttons, how about an arrow for left and right ON , or UNDER the thumbnail? It took me a good few weeks to get the hang of using it correclty, AND, actually wanting to use it.

So, back to the point. I believe Left(older) Right (Newer), but again, it is cultural. Maybe top to bottom is better in Asian cultures? Calvin?  Of course if you are going to place any thumbnails on the side of a large image I would instead do a Page of them and have them be nav in to the whole set. Maybe that's the problem. The photo is part of a set, "usually" and they are/were using this 2 thumbnail block for both the sets and the stream.

Q:  am I the only one who uses FlickR for Set type management, or do people actually use the stream context (is you will) and constantly check their contact's streams for their latest images?  The stream just seems very unweildy and unmanagable to me. E.g. upload 300 photos and then have to select ones out of the steam in order to create sets is a pain. I create sets, and they load selected images in to them for sharing.





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