Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Jun 2012 08:04 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces It's just a tiny example, but it illustrates a far bigger problem. Adam Becker: "So what's the problem? It's that this innocuous little guy is now being used for all sorts of disparate purposes, and every time it's used for another action, it loses more and more of its meaning." This is what happens when consistency is thrown out the door, and developers get little to no guidance from operating systems' parent companies. Mobile applications and the web are a UX free-for-all, and as a result, established iconography and concepts are used out of context and in wildly varying ways. Just because you can code a mobile application doesn't mean you know anything about user interface design - this lack of guidance is where both Apple and Google have failed miserably.
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RE: Comment by MOS6510
by Doc Pain on Fri 15th Jun 2012 15:50 UTC in reply to "Comment by MOS6510"
Doc Pain
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I don't think it's much of a problem. In most cases icons are seen in context. People don't see "three lines", they see "that icon" that's always in the same place when they use a program.

Correct - this especially applies where icons don't depict actual (material) things, or when the depicted object that represents a certain action is not in use for that kind of action anymore.

A nice example of the latter categorie is provided in the article "The Floppy Disk means Save, and 14 other old people Icons that don't make sense anymore" which mentions:

floppy disk = save
radio buttons = mutually exclusive choices
clipboard = buffer memory or other storage
bookmarks = save address of web page or location in file system
address book, calendar = contact information and appointments
tape reels = voicemail or other audio messages
folder = means of grouping and hierarchical order
phone handset = voice communication (or telephone)
magnifying glass, binoculars = search for information. nit also magnify screen content
envelope = e-mail
wrenches, gears = settings, setup or installation, sometimes generic for programs
microphone = voice input
Kodak or other photo camera = digital pictures or movies
TV set with "bunny ears" antenna = streaming news or movies, play audiovisual media
carbon copy = "duplicate" e-mail messages

The context of those icons is mostly of historic nature. If the knowledge about what they initially meant is lost, only their "use by convention" will remain. Maybe in the future, today's use of icons will be seen as the use of hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt.


Today's icon-centric interfaces teach the user by a "trial & error" method what action an icon will cause. This action is then associated to that icon, no matter what it looks like. Basically, icons often give a hint to what they will do, but it doesn't neccessarily have to be the case to make a user learn that particular interface. When for example "blue globe with orange fox" means Internet access (in widest imaginable meaning), that's what users will quickly learn, even though there is no real realtion between the content of the icon and the action it will cause for them (as in: "I'm not using the Internet, I'm just going to my friends!" meaning that the user will access Facebook via Firefox).

A bigger problem is a hardware button or key that doesn't act consistent.

Or even worse - those that cannot easily determined as what they are and what they do. You sometimes find them in cars, where an element looks like a "turning knob", but in fact it's a "self-centering +/- switch key".

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