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They confuse me greatly.

What are they supposed to be? At first I thought they were snowflakes... In any event, if I wasn't an experienced Stack Exchange user, I really don't think I would have any idea what they were supposed to do other than simply flank the number of votes. It would not be readily apparent that they were the mechanism by which I was supposed to vote.

  • With regards to telling new users what those are for, that's what the About page is for. – El'endia Starman Oct 4 '13 at 19:26
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    A primary principle of good design is that you should not need to read documentation to know the most basic features of an application. Also, it would appear less than 5% (178 out of 3811) users have actually read the entire about page on the main site. – corsiKa Oct 4 '13 at 19:34
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    Honestly, if a new user can't figure out what those are for, then they're unlikely to be a good and constructive participant anyway. – El'endia Starman Oct 4 '13 at 19:52
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They look like crowns to me. Really for the most part they are just graphical flourishes.

I'm not sure that they are all that confusing, and let's remember that voting is a 15 rep privilege, that means they should have been here for at least a few minutes before they're allowed to use the arrow.

SE's privilege system is designed so this kind of thing is gradually introduced, that way people see how the site works before they are allowed to use specific parts of it. I'm OK with people having to figure out what the upvote and down vote arrows are. Note that they are clearly lit in a manner that really alleviates any confusion when they are activated.

And as El mentions, the site documentation, most clearly the About page, lays this out for folks who are curious about looking.

basically, while voting is an important part of the system here, it's not an essential part of it. As long as people can easily and succesfully ask and answer questions, not much else matters as far as UX in my view.

  • 3
    Not to mention the tooltip when you hover over them ... – 3961 Oct 5 '13 at 20:50
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    I should clarify that the confusion I hold is only in what they're supposed to be. They confuse me in the same way that modern art confuses me, I guess you could say. – corsiKa Oct 5 '13 at 23:05
  • It does look like six crowns--should it be 12 for the elders in Revelation?-- around a ring (which when zoomed in kind of looks like it has writing on it--but not Black Speech rendered with Elvish letters :-) ). The image is somewhat reminiscent of the equilateral triangle in circle symbol for the Trinity but does not seem to be a symbol used for that purpose (so non-Trinitarians might be less put-off). – Paul A. Clayton Oct 6 '13 at 2:02
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To me, the basic vote controls (as found on Beta sites like--currently--space.se) seem the most obvious. They look very much like the buttons one might find on a remote control (upward or downward pointing play button).

StackOverflow's vote controls are very minimalistic (gray isosceles triangles). While the up and down nature is more obvious (not equilateral triangles) than at christianity.se, the fact that they are controls is less obvious than with the basic design.

scifi.se has vote controls similar to the basic vote controls, but these are still not as obviously controls as in the basic design.

electronics.se has something like a buffer gate symbol. The up or down nature of the symbols is somewhat obvious, but they probably look the most like just decoration of the above examples.

The vote controls for christianity.se are perhaps the worst of all of these examples in terms of being recognizably up and down and recognizable as controls rather than decorations. The use of a symmetric curved triangle-like shape (presumably linked to the Christian use of the triangle to represent the Trinity) makes the upward/downward nature less obvious. The highly ornamental nature of the images also makes them less obviously control buttons (rather than decoration).

However, if one can guess that the number is, in fact, a score from voting, it is not that difficult to discern that the image above the score is for up voting and the image below the score is for down voting. (Even if one mistook the number for an article number or rank in a series of articles, one would probably guess that the buttons are previous and next controls from context.)

If one guessed that the number is a score, one might think that ordinary users do not have the ability to vote, so the lack of clarity has a small disadvantage.

Recognizing the voting controls is probably a much less common problem than recognizing that an asker can accept an answer.


With respect to few people reading the about page: while this is true (as noted in comments, only 179 Informed badges), the fact that 1,354 Supporter badges (first up vote) have been earned might indicate that the problem is not that severe.

Here are some numbers (with sites ordered by my rough ranking of most decorative/least obvious voting controls):

SE site       | Informed badges | Supporter badges      | Users 
              |    (% users)    |    (% users)          |
              |                 |   [* Informed]        |
christianity  |    179 (5.21)   |   1,354 (39.4) [ 7.6] |     3,435
electronics   |    398 (2.10)   |   6,080 (32.2) [15.3] |    18,910
stackoverflow | 52,587 (2.47)   | 419,292 (19.7) [ 8.0] | 2,131,780
scifi         |    326 (2.97)   |   4,503 (40.1) [13.8] |    10,988
space (Beta)  |     79 (9.55)   |     402 (48.6) [ 5.1] |       827

There is probably a significant bias against earning the Informed badge on a secondary site (if one already has significant experience with another SE site, the about page is less interesting). Users in a early public Beta stage are probably more likely to up vote (so the high percentage of Supporter badges in space.se might not have much to say about the obviousness of the interface). Being the most mature and popular, StackOverflow may get a larger fraction of low-participation users (possibly somewhat explaining its low Supporter count).

I suspect that site age has more to do with the percentage of users that have up voted a post than the obviousness of the voting interface. (Ordering by age, I think scifi.se is the only one of these sites with an anomalous percentage of Supporter badges. That might be somewhat explained by the more subjective content of the site and perhaps the more enthusiast traits of its users.)

  • Is there any way of finding out how many users have the association bonus and start off here with a rep score of 101? That would mean they might not have needed to read the About page and they would certainly have an idea of what the controls were for. – Andrew Leach Oct 8 '13 at 7:27
  • @AndrewLeach It might be possible to use the Data Explorer to find a user's reputation on the user's first day (and possibly subtract any other earned reputation). The data is available in the user's profile, so it is not secret. Incidentally, I got Informed after Fanatic which I got roughly a month and a half (or more) after the association bonus. However, I started during the public Beta when the vote controls were most obvious. One might want to include only users coming after the site left Beta (w.r.t. impact of vote control design). – Paul A. Clayton Oct 8 '13 at 14:59

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