Usability and Standards for Formatting Negative Numbers?

14 Apr 2008 - 7:55am
6 years ago
5 replies
1434 reads
Jef Lippiatt
2008

I am currently doing some research before I make a suggestion for how this
information should be displayed. Of the known formats I know that using
parenthesis () around the number or using the minus sign in front of the
number can be used. I have also seen both of these variations with the
numbers displaying in red.

I was just looking to get some feedback or possible resources that might
have more information or research that backs it one way or the other so I
can be more informed with this decision. Thank you for your feedback and
time in advance.

Comments

14 Apr 2008 - 9:15am
Alexander Baxevanis
2007

In most consumer-facing applications that I've seen (e.g. online
checkout/payment systems etc.) negative numbers have been shown just
with a minus sign, and in most cases in red colour.

On the other hand, I've seen the "parentheses" notation being used
quite extensively in accounting, e.g. when companies publish their
financial figures. Maybe in these cases there is a requirement to make
negative numbers conspicuous even when printed in black & white.

Cheers,
Alex

On Mon, Apr 14, 2008 at 2:55 PM, Jeff lippiatt <jeflip at gmail.com> wrote:
> I am currently doing some research before I make a suggestion for how this
> information should be displayed. Of the known formats I know that using
> parenthesis () around the number or using the minus sign in front of the
> number can be used. I have also seen both of these variations with the
> numbers displaying in red.
>
> I was just looking to get some feedback or possible resources that might
> have more information or research that backs it one way or the other so I
> can be more informed with this decision. Thank you for your feedback and
> time in advance.
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

14 Apr 2008 - 10:18am
Amanda Mallinger
2006

I do not have the research you are seeking, but I'd like to pose a
question. If this is an application from which you can access the
user's preferences as set in the operating system, why not use
those, and then each user would see them in the way most usable to
him or her? (If you are unable to retrieve this information for your
data presentation, please disregard this question.)

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=28049

14 Apr 2008 - 10:22am
Adam Connor
2007

In my experience, a minus sign and red color, has always won out in terms of
recognition.

Not long ago I actually ran a quick study on a handful of individuals where
I asked the users to identify all of the negative values on a spreadsheet. I
had one spreadsheet that used the red/minus sign notation, and one that used
the parentheses. By far users were faster at identifying the values using
the red/minus notation. They were also more accurate.

I think the most important indicator, I think is the color. Alexander makes
a good point about the formatting when the only option is black and white.

-adam

On Mon, Apr 14, 2008 at 11:15 AM, Alexander Baxevanis <
alex.baxevanis at gmail.com> wrote:

> In most consumer-facing applications that I've seen (e.g. online
> checkout/payment systems etc.) negative numbers have been shown just
> with a minus sign, and in most cases in red colour.
>
> On the other hand, I've seen the "parentheses" notation being used
> quite extensively in accounting, e.g. when companies publish their
> financial figures. Maybe in these cases there is a requirement to make
> negative numbers conspicuous even when printed in black & white.
>
> Cheers,
> Alex
>
> On Mon, Apr 14, 2008 at 2:55 PM, Jeff lippiatt <jeflip at gmail.com> wrote:
> > I am currently doing some research before I make a suggestion for how
> this
> > information should be displayed. Of the known formats I know that using
> > parenthesis () around the number or using the minus sign in front of
> the
> > number can be used. I have also seen both of these variations with the
> > numbers displaying in red.
> >
> > I was just looking to get some feedback or possible resources that
> might
> > have more information or research that backs it one way or the other so
> I
> > can be more informed with this decision. Thank you for your feedback
> and
> > time in advance.
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>
>

--
adam connor
little green toaster
413.244.4457
adam at littlegreentoaster.com
www.littlegreentoaster.com

14 Apr 2008 - 12:19pm
Jennifer Vignone
2008

I have been designing pre-trade, trading, and research applications for financial institutions for a number of years, and negative values have been handled in a number of fairly consistent ways, based on user feedback and also the standard for certain types of reports in a given business venue:

-- Negative sign before the number
-- Parenthesis before the number

These are typically paired with a color that imparts an immediate meaning to the user (red), provided the user is not color-blind or on a poor quality monitor. However the color palette is defined so that colors will all have distinct values for the three types of color-blindness so they still have recognition and meaning for color-blind users (which I have encountered at just about every bank I have consulted at).

When it comes to the printed report, or the data as exported to Excel, PDF, HTML, TXT, CSV, the negative numbers are typically shown with parentheses. The red color may be retained, but the general thought is that a color printer is less likely throughout various environment, and the parens would impart the most value and understood meaning. Users may also have their own color needs and will therefore make their own adjustments as needed.

I would not leave the use of negative signs, color, and parens up to a user preference, mainly because the specificity of the presentation across not just one application but several precludes the one user preference for display.

I would not leave the use of negative signs, color, and parens up to a user preference, mainly because the specificity of the presentation across not just one application but several precludes the one user preference for display.

Also, remember to right-align your numbers and align according to the number, not the parens.

I guess what I am saying is that these are the typical means used in any financial institution I have designed for, and the nuances have tended to be a result of user testing and a consistency applied across an application suite.

-----Original Message-----
>From: Jeff lippiatt <jeflip at gmail.com>
>Sent: Apr 14, 2008 9:55 AM
>To: discuss at ixda.org
>Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Usability and Standards for Formatting Negative Numbers?
>
>I am currently doing some research before I make a suggestion for how this
>information should be displayed. Of the known formats I know that using
>parenthesis () around the number or using the minus sign in front of the
>number can be used. I have also seen both of these variations with the
>numbers displaying in red.
>
>I was just looking to get some feedback or possible resources that might
>have more information or research that backs it one way or the other so I
>can be more informed with this decision. Thank you for your feedback and
>time in advance.
>________________________________________________________________
>Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

17 Apr 2008 - 12:48pm
Pam Migliore
2006

A piece that seems to be missing from this discussion is the context.
Is your application a financial application in which a negative number
is (potentially) a bad thing (thus the red=error pattern) or is it
some other application?

The domain I support is chemistry and we deal with negative numbers
all the time. The thing is, in the world of our customers a negative
number isn't necessarily bad or some type of error condition. We
reserve the red treatment for error messages or conditions (the whole
number, positive or negative might be red if outside or the defined
limits) so we go with the simple "-" to denote negative numbers.
We don't use " " for positives and don't use paranthesis at all.

Hope this helps.
Pam

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=28049

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