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Tip of the Week: Rotation–Clockwise or Counter-clockwise?

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Have you ever had that moment of doubt as to which direction InDesign’s rotation angle is going to move your object? Are positive numbers clockwise or counter-clockwise?

I can’t remember myself, but there’s a little cheat that helps me look smart in front of a class. Just take a quick peek at the Rotation tool in the Tools panel. Notice that it indicates a counter-clockwise direction.


That’s your clue that positive numbers rotate objects counter-clockwise.


Negative numbers go clockwise.


This half-second glance saves me a lot of undos.

Sandee Cohen

Sandee Cohen

Sandee Cohen

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3 Comments on “Tip of the Week: Rotation–Clockwise or Counter-clockwise?

  1. I’ve never understood why this is so. For aircraft, ships and perhaps every degree-indicating compass made, the numbers increase in a positive fashion when you go clockwise.
    If I were to guess at the cause, I’d suggest tunnel vision. The first programmer to set this as the standard (Photoshope 1.0?), did so because his first thoughts about coding this problem made CCW seem easier. He never stepped back and said, “Wait a minute, everywhere else rotation CW is positive.”
    It’s also why the decline tech writing at software companies is bad. I worked as one for a time. Being forced to explain how something works often reveals flaws that, in the early stage of software development, can be taken to the programmers. I’ve found that, when ‘this is better for users’ can be explained to them, they’re often happy to make changes. Focused on creating code that worked, they’d failed to see the larger picture.

    • I believe its based off of mathematics. In math, angles on the unit circle start at X=1, Y=0, and positive angles begin moving counterclockwise whereas negative angles go clockwise. Many mathematicians are familiar with this convention, and it was brought into the computer world with Computer Aided Design programs a long time ago (before graphic design programs.) Many graphic design programs adopted the convention, but others decided to use the clockwise=positive convention.

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