When Next Means Previous and Forward is Back

Ever notice that the buttons at the bottom of so many web pages, news feeds and blog posts are fundamentally meaningless? I’m referring to those link pairs used for navigating published content, such as Next / PreviousForward / Back and First / Last. Since it is unclear whether these terms are meant to apply to recency of posting or sequence of posts—and because different users interpret this differently—all of these are actually ambiguous in the context of a page that employs reverse chronology, like a blog.

Thus, we find sites where “back” or “previous” take us toward more recent entries (which makes sense because we are scrolling backwards through the posted pages), as well as ones where “back” or “previous” are used to denote older posts (which can also be said to make sense because we are moving backwards in time).

Sure, no great harm comes from having to negotiate the resulting confusion (maybe just a few clicks back on your browser—whoops, that’s confusing), but why include a murky step in your user experience when you can deploy an elegant, functional one instead? Opting for Older / Newer is one clear solution that is both necessary and sufficient for unambiguous navigation. Variations on this include the slightly more formal Older Entries / Newer Entries and the like.

Imagine the satisfaction it gives me to be able to say I actually modified the code of this site in order to change the default Wells template Prev / Next setting to the preferred Newer / Older. And then imagine my disdain that a CMS like Squarespace would even foster such poor ergonomics within their otherwise excellent platform.

Ambiguity makes for interesting art —and infuriating directions. Photo by Natalia Osiatynska, taken in 2009 with a Ricoh GR Digital 2.

Ambiguity makes for interesting art —and infuriating directions. Photo by Natalia Osiatynska, taken in 2009 with a Ricoh GR Digital 2.