15 votes

The ineffectiveness of lonely icons

9 comments

  1. [8]
    Algernon_Asimov Link
    I've been saying this same thing over and over for years. Whether it's icons in a user interface, or emoji in a text message - pictures, in and of themselves, do not convey a message. They need...

    Icons are pictograms. They're modern day hieroglyphics. They're poor at conveying meaning and are easy to misunderstand, or are simply unrecognisable.

    You know what linguists and archeologists struggled with for decades? Deciphering those simple pictures which were initially made so that the common illiterate could understand concepts without someone standing there and telling them. Why did historians and archeologists have such a protracted problem in understanding these purpose-made simplistic pictorial icons?

    I've been saying this same thing over and over for years. Whether it's icons in a user interface, or emoji in a text message - pictures, in and of themselves, do not convey a message. They need context, familiarity, and experience, just as much as words do.

    Icons. Suck. At. Conveyance.

    YES!!!

    Older people are not like children. Are not naturally inclined to touch things and see what happens. Are expecting they can break things through ignorance. Are not going to just try stuff.

    I have repeatedly told developers that "trial and error" is not an effective way for people to learn how to use their software.

    This person gets it. I love them and I want to marry them.

    7 votes
    1. [7]
      Deimos Link Parent
      Yeah, this is one of the best articles I've read in a while explaining why icons alone are not good. I enjoyed this one too, but it's not very informative, really just a rant against how...

      Yeah, this is one of the best articles I've read in a while explaining why icons alone are not good. I enjoyed this one too, but it's not very informative, really just a rant against how unintuitive gmail's icons are.

      One aspect of icons that I find especially poorly-considered goes along with the "assumed context" that he mentioned: a lot of icons are based on connections that come entirely from English, and make absolutely no sense to people in other languages. My pet example of this is the "link" icon, which is used in a ton of text-editing interfaces (and other places). This icon depends completely upon the fact that, in English, we use the same word for "link on the internet" and "link of a chain". That isn't true in other languages, and so that icon is nonsense. What does the "chain" button do?

      7 votes
      1. [5]
        Ordinator Link Parent
        I never realized this. Isn't the "link" part of "hyperlink" directly derived from the "link" in the chain sense though? Like, it's not exactly a coincidence that we used the same work in English.

        This icon depends completely upon the fact that, in English, we use the same word for "link on the internet" and "link of a chain". That isn't true in other languages...

        I never realized this. Isn't the "link" part of "hyperlink" directly derived from the "link" in the chain sense though? Like, it's not exactly a coincidence that we used the same work in English.

        2 votes
        1. [4]
          Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
          Not directly. It's from the sense of a link as a connection between one thing and another - which is true of the links in a chain, but is also true of lots of other things. A railway line is a...

          Isn't the "link" part of "hyperlink" directly derived from the "link" in the chain sense though?

          Not directly. It's from the sense of a link as a connection between one thing and another - which is true of the links in a chain, but is also true of lots of other things. A railway line is a link between two cities. The name "Smith" is a link between John Smith and Jane Smith. And so on. There are lots of different links in our world: the links in a chain are only one example.

          2 votes
          1. [3]
            Ordinator Link Parent
            Potato, potato maybe, but the word "link" itself is etymologically derived from the things that make up a chain, so while it's used metaphorically in many places, it all still goes back to chains....

            Potato, potato maybe, but the word "link" itself is etymologically derived from the things that make up a chain, so while it's used metaphorically in many places, it all still goes back to chains. If you had to pick a pictogram for the English word "link", some kind of chain is about as fundamental as you can get.

            1. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
              True, I suppose. However, coming back to the original point, we can't guarantee that the word for a hyperlink and the word for a single component of a chain are the same in all languages (they...

              If you had to pick a pictogram for the English word "link", some kind of chain is about as fundamental as you can get.

              True, I suppose.

              However, coming back to the original point, we can't guarantee that the word for a hyperlink and the word for a single component of a chain are the same in all languages (they probably aren't).

              1 vote
            2. vakieh Link Parent
              Interestingly, the term 'mail' means the combination of linkages. There's a lot of shared etymology there, none of which is at all relevant for picking icons because of the exact issue expressed...

              Interestingly, the term 'mail' means the combination of linkages. There's a lot of shared etymology there, none of which is at all relevant for picking icons because of the exact issue expressed in the OP:

              We have lost the shared context. Nobody has a village blacksmith any more.

              If you wanted to use an icon, an arrow would probably be better than a chain link. But if you wanted to use an icon you are probably a shitty UI designer.

              1 vote
      2. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
        My favourite is the "save" icon which looks like an obsolete device which most people under 30 have never used, and which even I haven't seen for over a decade. And I remember arguing here on...

        My favourite is the "save" icon which looks like an obsolete device which most people under 30 have never used, and which even I haven't seen for over a decade.

        And I remember arguing here on Tildes many months ago that even something as seemingly obvious as an "up" arrow is ambiguous, because it's not clear what is going up (The screen? A score?), or how (Navigating? Counting?).

        2 votes
  2. Kapps Link
    This reminds me of an article which I can't find now. UI/UX designers (at gov.uk maybe?) are trying to adapt the interface to the user: a first time user would see the full website with...

    This reminds me of an article which I can't find now. UI/UX designers (at gov.uk maybe?) are trying to adapt the interface to the user: a first time user would see the full website with descriptions and explanations but as the user becomes familiar with the site, the interface starts to be streamlined for simplicity. For example a save button would initially be an icon with text but eventually show just the icon as the user now understands what the button is for.

    3 votes