The Save Icon "rut"

19 Mar 2009 - 11:09am
5 years ago
20 replies
2815 reads
jaketrimble
2008

Has anyone seen any attempts to replace the standard floppy disk Save
icon? Seeing as most people haven't touched a 3.5" floppy in a decade,
is anyone addressing this archaic icon and how we can replace the
current mental model associated with it?

Comments

19 Mar 2009 - 11:34am
Phillip Hunter
2006

Jake,

I am not a visual designer, so I will yield to those with more experience, but I have to wonder if the reason you point out really matters. I mean, it might, but does it?

If so, it calls into question the use of the magnifying glass and maybe even binoculars, right? Are there others?

Oddly, when I read your email initially, I thought maybe the icon could be a little picture of a safe. But how many people see those on any frequent basis, either?

ph

19 Mar 2009 - 11:40am
djlittle
2009

Interesting point. Strikes me as a metaphor which has become slightly
divorced from its original meaning. Most users would automatically
associate it with "save", although they're probably not thinking,
"that must be save, because it looks like a floppy disk".

You might argue that the same has happened (but to a lesser extent)
with the metaphor of the envelope for email. Many of us use email far
more than the "real world" post(?), and don't necessarily equate the
sending of an email with sending a letter, but the envelope icon
persists and has less of a "metaphorical" meaning.

So, what I guess I'm trying to say is, if the icons take on a new
meaning of their own over time do they even need to change?

Just a thought.

David

19 Mar 2009 - 12:17pm
Larry Tesler
2004

Many printers do not resemble whatever print icon a particular app may
provide.

Apple's Mail app uses a paper airplane to mean Send. It is a loose
metaphor to be sure--and lacks any association whatsoever to the
accompanying sound effect. But it is understandable and probably more
recognizable and memorable than a sidewalk mailbox or a more accurate
SMTP server.

A spyglass would be a suboptimal tool for searching a room full of
files or the Library of Congress for all documents containing a
particular phrase. But it is recognizable and memorable, so that's
what most apps use to represent "search".

A paint brush for copying styles?

A single sheet of paper with a folded corner to represent what could
be a 400-page book, a 500-row spreadsheet or a two-hour movie?

A stagecoach to represent a bank?

Once an icon becomes established, it is easier to teach it to new
users than to re-teach a new icon to habituated users.

Storage media today range from disk drives encased in usually
rectangular boxes to circular optical discs to flash memory chips.
None are as distinctive and charming as an old-fashioned floppy. Using
any one of them might be taken to exclude the rest. For example, an
optical disc might be assumed to mean "Burn".

I think it would take a spectacularly clever icon to displace the
floppy for Save.

Larry Tesler

On Mar 19, 2009, at 9:09 AM, Jake Trimble wrote:
> Has anyone seen any attempts to replace the standard floppy disk Save
> icon? Seeing as most people haven't touched a 3.5" floppy in a decade,
> is anyone addressing this archaic icon and how we can replace the
> current mental model associated with it?

19 Mar 2009 - 1:34pm
Den Serras
2009

I had the same conversation with a friend just yesterday. We've seen
icons with a down arrow pointing at a hard disk or computer (which
also seems to mean export), but the best I've seen is a down arrow
pointing into a folder.

As a thought experiment, we wondered what if the world didn't have
floppies, and "save" was just invented. What would it look like? We
liked the folder/arrow idea, since it's cross-platform, or a folder
with a document going in it. Since these days files are not
associated with physical storage anywhere near as much, we thought it
might be possible to use an icon for the concept of save rather than a
symbol referencing the process of saving a file to disc. We thought of
liferings, lifeguards, hands, rescue boats, helicopters, and banks.
That led us to using the philosophy behind "save" - making
something safe - which led to bank vaults/safes, baseball home
plates, file cabinets, keys, combo locks, keyholes, doors, houses,
bank buildings, cash registers, and security images like fences,
walls, barbed wire, and castles.

I'm sure there's a lot more out there...

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19 Mar 2009 - 1:49pm
Coryndon Luxmoore
2004

Strictly speaking save as a function is a holdover from the day that
computers were not capable of retaining a running list of all edits
and storing them in real time.

So in my mind the question is if we remove the need to save a file how
do I mark a significant point in the creation of a file?

--C

--------------------------------------------
Coryndon Luxmoore
Interaction Designer

coryndon (at) luxmoore (dot) com
---------------------------------------------

On Mar 19, 2009, at 11:34 AM, Den Serras wrote:

> I had the same conversation with a friend just yesterday. We've seen
> icons with a down arrow pointing at a hard disk or computer (which
> also seems to mean export), but the best I've seen is a down arrow
> pointing into a folder.
>
> As a thought experiment, we wondered what if the world didn't have
> floppies, and "save" was just invented. What would it look like? We
> liked the folder/arrow idea, since it's cross-platform, or a folder
> with a document going in it. Since these days files are not
> associated with physical storage anywhere near as much, we thought it
> might be possible to use an icon for the concept of save rather than a
> symbol referencing the process of saving a file to disc. We thought of
> liferings, lifeguards, hands, rescue boats, helicopters, and banks.
> That led us to using the philosophy behind "save" - making
> something safe - which led to bank vaults/safes, baseball home
> plates, file cabinets, keys, combo locks, keyholes, doors, houses,
> bank buildings, cash registers, and security images like fences,
> walls, barbed wire, and castles.
>
> I'm sure there's a lot more out there...
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=40180
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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>

19 Mar 2009 - 2:29pm
jabbett
2008

In the version control universe, you would "tag" your file(s) to
identify a particular snapshot of your work (e.g. "version 1.1")

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revision_control#Baselines.2C_labels.2C_and_tags

On Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 2:49 PM, Coryndon Luxmoore
<coryndon at luxmoore.com> wrote:
> Strictly speaking save as a function is a holdover from the day that
> computers were not capable of retaining a running list of all edits and
> storing them in real time.
>
> So in my mind the question is if we remove the need to save a file how do I
> mark a significant point in the creation of a file?
>
> --C
>
> --------------------------------------------
> Coryndon Luxmoore
> Interaction Designer
>
> coryndon (at) luxmoore (dot) com
> ---------------------------------------------
>
> On Mar 19, 2009, at 11:34 AM, Den Serras wrote:
>
>> I had the same conversation with a friend just yesterday. We've seen
>> icons with a down arrow pointing at a hard disk or computer (which
>> also seems to mean export), but the best I've seen is a down arrow
>> pointing into a folder.
>>
>> As a thought experiment, we wondered what if the world didn't have
>> floppies, and "save" was just invented. What would it look like? We
>> liked the folder/arrow idea, since it's cross-platform, or a folder
>> with a document going in it. Since these days files are not
>> associated with physical storage anywhere near as much, we thought it
>> might be possible to use an icon for the concept of save rather than a
>> symbol referencing the process of saving a file to disc. We thought of
>> liferings, lifeguards, hands, rescue boats, helicopters, and banks.
>> That led us to using the philosophy behind "save" - making
>> something safe - which led to bank vaults/safes, baseball home
>> plates, file cabinets, keys, combo locks, keyholes, doors, houses,
>> bank buildings, cash registers, and security images like fences,
>> walls, barbed wire, and castles.
>>
>> I'm sure there's a lot more out there...
>>
>>
>> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
>> Posted from the new ixda.org
>> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=40180
>>
>>
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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>

19 Mar 2009 - 2:41pm
Jeff Garbers
2008

Another approach would be to replace the "save" metaphor with a
"checkpoint" (I'm not wild about that word, but it'll work for
now). The system would save continuously, and whenever you wanted to
note a significant revision, you'd click "checkpoint". The app
would let you add notes (as searchable metadata, of course) to
describe the checkpoint and perhaps increment a version number as in
Jonathan's version control observation.

The "checkpoint" log could also be used by other elements of the
system. I'd like, for example, to have the version of a document
that I emailed automatically checkpointed as such, so when I went
into the document history I could easily find the version that I had
sent to Sam, or that I had uploaded to a file server, etc.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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19 Mar 2009 - 3:04pm
Hf guru
2009

Replace it with a piggy bank! din't we get our first lesson on how to save from a piggy bank? Well that was not the lighter side.
My question is why change something what difference will it make? It will cause unneccesaary confusion among users , we never questioned the arrangemnet of letters on a QWERTY keyboard did we? we just accept it, infact adapted to it. When the sole purpose was to facilitate the sales person to type TYPEWRITER quickly and impress their clients .
What I am trying to say is that change something only if it benificial, not just because it won't look cool!

19 Mar 2009 - 2:59pm
Steven Keith
2007

Has anyone ever eulogized a metaphor before? Sounds fun enough.

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19 Mar 2009 - 5:00pm
Stephen Holmes
2009

Dead technologies live on in symbols. Get used to it!

Seriously, here in Australia I see pictograms of a castle keep to
signify to tourists a historic site - our country is not old enough
to have real castles, but this european symbol tells international
travelers that something of historic interest is ahead. Or how about
the steam train icon before a level crossing. People know they
aren't likely to see an actual train - it is just that the icon is
recognisable to the majority of the general public. Final icon was
one that perplexed me on my first to europe - the constant use of a
round horn to signify postal services. As an Australian I had no
concept of why that symbol was associated with the mail, but
traveling from country to country with only english and bad italian
as my methods of communication, it was comforting to know I could
find a post office anywhere I went - I just needed to spot the
symbol.

I used to teach graphic design and one of the early projects put to
my students was to remove all of the text labels, such as
"telephone", "fax", "e-mail", "mobile" etc. in front of the
contact details on a common business card and replace them with
appropriate symbols. One thing I noticed was it was very hard for
first year students to drag themselves away from the envelope as a
component of the e-mail icon, even though these students live in the
electronic world and send far more e-mails than postal letters.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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19 Mar 2009 - 7:23pm
Adam Korman
2004

Alan Cooper talks about this at length in About Face (chapter 17 is
"Rethinking Files and Save").

Regards, Adam

On Mar 19, 2009, at 11:49 AM, Coryndon Luxmoore wrote:

> Strictly speaking save as a function is a holdover from the day that
> computers were not capable of retaining a running list of all edits
> and storing them in real time.
>
> So in my mind the question is if we remove the need to save a file
> how do I mark a significant point in the creation of a file?
>
> --C

20 Mar 2009 - 1:09am
cfmdesigns
2004

On Mar 19, 2009, at 9:09 AM, Jake Trimble wrote:

> Has anyone seen any attempts to replace the standard floppy disk Save
> icon? Seeing as most people haven't touched a 3.5" floppy in a decade,
> is anyone addressing this archaic icon and how we can replace the
> current mental model associated with it?

I noticed this exact problem a few days ago, too.

There are two problems here:

(1) You're describing an action with a object. ("Save" = "Diskette")
And since the object in common use for the action has significantly
changed, it no longer logically works to use the old one.

(2) You're dealing with a slowly obsoleting action. "Save" is an
artifact of when we couldn't reliably autosave each action.

What you really need, then, is (a) a modern action to reflect what is
really being done (such as "Save Version"), and (b) iconography to
reflect *that* action.

A decade ago, I tested an app that compiled HTML code into a binary
format, and it had a "Run" command (which didn't actually "run"
anything, note a problem right there). The button icon? A bright red/
orange phoon. In an app aimed at Enterprise and Military customers.
The marketing manager was a bit miffed when I complained about the
icon and how it looked like a Dr. Seuss character -- "We paid a lot of
money for those icons" "You should have paid more" -- but she came
around when I walked her through it: you had to deduce that the icon
was supposed to be a person, then that it was a person running, then
that the command was Run, and then what the Run command would do; you
effectively had to decipher a pun in the process. I think they
changed it to an arrow or even just the word Run (since the app wasn't
localized).

(Phoon? http://www.phoons.com/)

-- Jim

20 Mar 2009 - 7:57am
Nick de Voil
2009

Over time, the original literal meaning of a symbol can be quite
forgotten, provided that eveyone knows its symbolic meaning. It's
normal.

We can see this in our own alphabet. For example, most of us are
oblivious to the fact that the letter "K" was originally a picture
of a hand, or that "N" was a snake.

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20 Mar 2009 - 11:41am
gfrances@iconta...
2008

An interesting discussion. This raises in my mind an entirely different question - is the language of graphic communication as fluid as the language of verbal communication? In 100 years how different will the library of commonly used icons have changed, and how will they have changed?

To speak to the specific discussion at hand, I'm guessing the average non-technical user would be surprised to hear that the floppy disk icon was a "problem," and I think many would also be confused by the distinction between "version save" and "save." At this time I would have to side with the others on here who noted the vast array of archaic symbols being used, without apparent drawback or controversy, and take the attitude that if it aint broke then don't fix it.

20 Mar 2009 - 2:48pm
Jerome Ryckborst
2007

One way to handle this would be to remove the icon along with the need to
save. If that could be done, I bet that would unnerve many users, though.

--
Jerome Ryckborst, CUA | UPA member | AIA member | http://FiveSketches.com
--

20 Mar 2009 - 3:47pm
cfmdesigns
2004

The need to do an explicit save remains, to create "checkpoint"
versions. There us mental training to do with that, but not as much
as with "no saving needed". Something other than the current imagery
is needed for that though.

-- Jim
Via my iPhone

On Mar 20, 2009, at 12:48 PM, "Jerome Ryckborst" <j3rom3 at gmail.com>
wrote:

> One way to handle this would be to remove the icon along with the
> need to
> save. If that could be done, I bet that would unnerve many users,
> though.
>
> --
> Jerome Ryckborst, CUA | UPA member | AIA member | http://FiveSketches.com
> --
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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20 Mar 2009 - 3:53pm
David Drucker
2008

I seem to remember some software that had the metaphor of a
'snapshot', with a camera icon, that would save these reference
versions (although I don't think it was replacing save, but rather
providing another option. The concept of a snapshot in time is not
that big a stretch.

--
David Drucker
Vancouver, BC
david at drucker.ca

On 20-Mar-09, at 1:47 PM, Jim Drew wrote:

> The need to do an explicit save remains, to create "checkpoint"
> versions. There us mental training to do with that, but not as much
> as with "no saving needed". Something other than the current imagery
> is needed for that though.
>
> -- Jim
> Via my iPhone
>
> On Mar 20, 2009, at 12:48 PM, "Jerome Ryckborst" <j3rom3 at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>
>> One way to handle this would be to remove the icon along with the
>> need to
>> save. If that could be done, I bet that would unnerve many users,
>> though.
>>
>> --
>> Jerome Ryckborst, CUA | UPA member | AIA member | http://FiveSketches.com
>> --
>>
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

20 Mar 2009 - 11:19pm
DampeS8N
2008

the floppy icon is a metaphor like the email inbox. I doubt many
people who use email know it is a metaphor. The 'in box' has all
but vanished.

To the point where I've considered not calling things that resemble
a REAL in box in my applications an in box. In Pile, or various other
names are better, as people no longer think in box when they see
inbox.

There is a lot to suggest that what an icon resembles isn't
relevant. The consistency of everyone using a 3.5 floppy is a better
option than changing it to something more obvious, because the
picture only helps you learn what something means once or twice.
Saving is so common, and the icon so ubiquitous that only a complete
novice to computers doesn't know what the icon means. And those
people will have a much harder time with the CONCEPT of saving, than
the struggle with the icon.

I do agree, however, that saving should go away. it is out dated and
only hardened computer elites want the mechanic. A snapshot has been
already mentioned in this thread, and that is a far better option
than the saving mechanic.

I'd also like to see the file system die.

auto-save, proper document naming, and intelligent meta-data usage
can fully replace both saving and the file system. If done right, no
one will ever miss it.

But so long as a save icon need exist, a 3.5 floppy it should remain.

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20 Mar 2009 - 7:37pm
Todd Diemer
2009

Jeff G. and Jerome R. have a good point here about a continuous save,
snapshot save, or checkpoints.

Could we remove the save button completely if these checkpoints were
constantly saved ala Gmail or other apps that save drafts on a
regular basis. The user would then only be required to set a period
between which they want saves to occur.

To revert back to older versions the user would view an interactive
timeline showing previews of their different With the amount of
computing power and disk space these days the limitation here seems
to be user culture and interface design.

Going back to the original question though with our mental model how
it is, how about replacing the icon of a disk with an icon of a icon
of a box/briefcase/shelf that has paper files going into it? When
items have been successfully saved the object will close. The idea
being that instead of saving it to a disk you are in essence, putting
the object away in a safe place.

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24 Mar 2009 - 2:24am
cfmdesigns
2004

On Mar 20, 2009, at 5:37 PM, Todd Diemer wrote:

> Jeff G. and Jerome R. have a good point here about a continuous save,
> snapshot save, or checkpoints.
>
> Could we remove the save button completely if these checkpoints were
> constantly saved ala Gmail or other apps that save drafts on a
> regular basis. The user would then only be required to set a period
> between which they want saves to occur.

Except checkpoint versions are wanted after significant actions, or at
the end of work periods, which don't have any direct connection with
set time periods. And in fact, people should generally want a finite,
controllable number of checkpoint versions, rather than (say) six new
ones per work day, which could get out of hand on a lengthy project.
And checkpoint versions aren't of much use unless they are annotated
so the user knows what he's rolling back to. The user still needs to
control the big stage points manually.

These would work as intermediate generic checkpoints, though -- super
autosaves, as it were -- to free users from the need to make
checkpoint versions at less important stages. You'd presumably erase
them at the next manual checkpoint.

-- Jim

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