Outdated Icons

24 Apr 2006 - 10:43am
8 years ago
16 replies
1878 reads
Akanowicz Ron
2005

I've been noticing icons lately that sooner or later will be outdated.
Let me give you a few examples-

In MS Word, when I want to save a document, I click the diskette icon.
It's actually been years since I used the 3.5" diskette, but it's still
associated with "Save."

In a meeting last week we used the speaker phone for a conference call.
The on and off buttons showed a telephone handset oriented either
vertically (phone off receiver - On) or horizontally (phone on receiver
- Off). The icon for the phone was the one I remember as a child- with
the round ear and mouth piece that sat on top of the phone cradle and
connected via the spring-like cord. (see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone#Telephone_equipment for the phone
I'm thinking of- the beige pushbutton phone's handset)

Also on this phone was a button for mute, which showed an old-fashioned
microphone with a slash through it. The mic looked like the one on David
Letterman's desk- large, with a large base and mesh covering.

It seems that some people under a certain age may have never seen these
physical objects.

Do you have other examples?

So when do icons expire?

Comments

24 Apr 2006 - 11:00am
bhekking
2006

There's the ubiquitous 'envelope' icon for email. I'll bet there are younger
users out there who have never actually mailed a letter, unless it's a bill.

Bret Hekking

--- Akanowicz Ron-ERA002C <ERA002C at motorola.com> wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> I've been noticing icons lately that sooner or later will be outdated.
> Let me give you a few examples-
>
> In MS Word, when I want to save a document, I click the diskette icon.
> It's actually been years since I used the 3.5" diskette, but it's still
> associated with "Save."
>
> In a meeting last week we used the speaker phone for a conference call.
> The on and off buttons showed a telephone handset oriented either
> vertically (phone off receiver - On) or horizontally (phone on receiver
> - Off). The icon for the phone was the one I remember as a child- with
> the round ear and mouth piece that sat on top of the phone cradle and
> connected via the spring-like cord. (see
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone#Telephone_equipment for the phone
> I'm thinking of- the beige pushbutton phone's handset)
>
> Also on this phone was a button for mute, which showed an old-fashioned
> microphone with a slash through it. The mic looked like the one on David
> Letterman's desk- large, with a large base and mesh covering.
>
> It seems that some people under a certain age may have never seen these
> physical objects.
>
> Do you have other examples?
>
> So when do icons expire?
> ________________________________________________________________
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24 Apr 2006 - 11:21am
jbellis
2005

Ron,
What imagery do you propose for "save?" (Perhaps at the end of this thread
someone will say "none, because saving shouldn't be an explicit user
action[Raskin?]," at which point I'll ask what image we need for "don't
save/unsave.")

Thanks, Jack
www.jackbellis.com, www.usabilityInstitute.com
----- Original Message -----
From: "Akanowicz Ron-ERA002C" <ERA002C at motorola.com>
To: <discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com>
Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 11:43 AM
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Outdated Icons
>
> In MS Word, when I want to save a document, I click the diskette icon.
> It's actually been years since I used the 3.5" diskette, but it's still
> associated with "Save."

24 Apr 2006 - 11:48am
Markus Grupp-TM
2006

>> It seems that some people under a certain age may have never seen these physical objects.
>> Do you have other examples?
>> So when do icons expire?

Ron,

I agree that many icons use metaphors of physical objects that are now obsolete or no longer widely used. Nonetheless, icon metaphors persist because a (large) set of users associate the metaphor and icon imagery with the corresponding task or function. As Cooper writes, "We understand metaphors
by intuition. In user interfaces, we grasp the meaning of the metaphoric control because we mentally connect it with some other process or thing we have already invested time and effort into learning."

The 3.5" disk Save icon persists because users (on a wide-scale) have used this icon hundreds(thousands/ tens of thousands) of times after initially investing the time and effort to learn its function (either by reading the user guide, trial and error, a course or a friend's assistance). They
associate the icon with the function of saving and do not necessarily envision a physical floppy disk.

As a result, while younger users may not relate to the physical objects used as a metaphor, they start to draw connections between metaphors and the corresponding functionality from the time they start to use an interface.

Designers run into trouble when they try to use metaphors that are not the convention or standard for a specific function. This includes when they try to update physical object in the metaphor. In order for a new metaphor to achieve widespread acceptance, it needs to be adopted by a handful of
software vendors with an incredibly large base of users.

Metaphors using dated/ obsolete physical objects

1. Rolodex for contacts/ address book: A representation of a Rolodex/ contact card has become an icon convention on mobile devices (and desktop) convention for Contacts/ Address Book . Personally, I have not used a Rolodex and only vaguely recall the old one on my father's desk, but I clearly
associate such icons with my contacts since using my

2. Bell for ringtones

3. Envelope/ letter for messaging

________________________________
Markus Grupp
Product Manager
Handset User Experience Design
Telus Mobility
200 Consilium Place, Suite 1600
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M1H 3J3
416-279-4367 telephone
647-684-4367 mobile (MIKE: 4367)
416-279-3817 fax
markus.grupp at telusmobility.com
www.telusmobility.com

24 Apr 2006 - 12:15pm
Jeremy Wood
2006

I agree with... well... everyone.

I especially like Markus's last comments.

I think icons are useful, and establish a kind of "tradition" within
technology. Maybe nobody uses a floppy disk anymore, but we generally
know what it means. There is a certain comfort to tradition, once its
established. (And kids will just have to learn it, but I think
learning one icon once is better than learning a new icon every 3 years
when the technology changes.)

The biggest question in my mind is:
What would we replace the save icon with? An image of a CD? (Usually
associated with music.) An image of a flash drive? (May be doable,
but what about everyone saving to another medium?) Or a hard disk, or
network? (not very practical, since nobody knows exactly what these
look like.)

And in a few years, maybe that will change again, and we'll all save to
our pda-ipod-watch-camera-phone.

Likewise for microphones: you mentioned the microphone icon is
outdated. What would we replace it with? My microphone on my iBook is
a dot in my monitor. It actually makes me think of a bullet hole, or a
manufacturing mistake. :) What's a modern icon for recording audio?

I agree many icons are outdated, but I don't think that's necessarily a
bad thing.

24 Apr 2006 - 12:22pm
Akanowicz Ron
2005

I'm not necessarily proposing anything new. I'm just sharing an
observation on icons.

It seems that at some point in the future- even though we can teach
someone that a diskette means save- that new icons will come into
general usage for these things/operations that better represent its
meaning. In 2016 I bet floppy disks will no longer even be manufactured.
Does it make sense to continue using something simply because that's
what was always used? If the argument is that once we "teach" a user
what it means then it justifies the icon, then why not use an icon of a
ham sandwich? Once we teach them (users) that the ham sandwich means
save, then they'll continue to use it, right?

But it seems that is contrary to being "intuitive", another foundation
of "usability." A new user wanting to save a document in 2016 may not
find a diskette intuitive because they don't know what the symbol is or
what it was (once) used for.

Again, all fodder for discussion....

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
jackbellis.com
Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 12:21 PM
To: ixda
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Outdated Icons

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
material.]

Ron,
What imagery do you propose for "save?" (Perhaps at the end of this
thread someone will say "none, because saving shouldn't be an explicit
user action[Raskin?]," at which point I'll ask what image we need for
"don't
save/unsave.")

Thanks, Jack
www.jackbellis.com, www.usabilityInstitute.com
----- Original Message -----
From: "Akanowicz Ron-ERA002C" <ERA002C at motorola.com>
To: <discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com>
Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 11:43 AM
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Outdated Icons
>
> In MS Word, when I want to save a document, I click the diskette icon.
> It's actually been years since I used the 3.5" diskette, but it's
> still associated with "Save."
________________________________________________________________
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24 Apr 2006 - 12:38pm
James Melzer
2004

Since 'load' is often represented as an arrow coming out of a folder,
why not make 'save' an arrow going into a folder, as in 'to file it'.
The metaphor is basic and common, and visually the manilla folder with
be preserved in both major OSs until the end of time (even if
real-world folders may fall into disuse).

~ James

On 4/24/06, Akanowicz Ron-ERA002C <ERA002C at motorola.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> I'm not necessarily proposing anything new. I'm just sharing an
> observation on icons.
>
> It seems that at some point in the future- even though we can teach
> someone that a diskette means save- that new icons will come into
> general usage for these things/operations that better represent its
> meaning. In 2016 I bet floppy disks will no longer even be manufactured.
> Does it make sense to continue using something simply because that's
> what was always used? If the argument is that once we "teach" a user
> what it means then it justifies the icon, then why not use an icon of a
> ham sandwich? Once we teach them (users) that the ham sandwich means
> save, then they'll continue to use it, right?
>
> But it seems that is contrary to being "intuitive", another foundation
> of "usability." A new user wanting to save a document in 2016 may not
> find a diskette intuitive because they don't know what the symbol is or
> what it was (once) used for.
>
> Again, all fodder for discussion....
>
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
> jackbellis.com
> Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 12:21 PM
> To: ixda
> Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Outdated Icons
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Ron,
> What imagery do you propose for "save?" (Perhaps at the end of this
> thread someone will say "none, because saving shouldn't be an explicit
> user action[Raskin?]," at which point I'll ask what image we need for
> "don't
> save/unsave.")
>
> Thanks, Jack
> www.jackbellis.com, www.usabilityInstitute.com
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Akanowicz Ron-ERA002C" <ERA002C at motorola.com>
> To: <discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com>
> Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 11:43 AM
> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Outdated Icons
> >
> > In MS Word, when I want to save a document, I click the diskette icon.
> > It's actually been years since I used the 3.5" diskette, but it's
> > still associated with "Save."
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org List Guidelines
> ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/ List Help ..................
> http://listhelp.ixda.org/ (Un)Subscription Options ...
> http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
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> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org Home .......................
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> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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>

--
James Melzer
http://www.jamesmelzer.com
http://del.icio.us/jamesmelzer

24 Apr 2006 - 12:54pm
Jeremy Wood
2006

> Since 'load' is often represented as an arrow coming out of a folder,
> why not make 'save' an arrow going into a folder, as in 'to file it'.
> The metaphor is basic and common, and visually the manilla folder with
> be preserved in both major OSs until the end of time (even if
> real-world folders may fall into disuse).

Good idea.

But there's a strong push (I think by Raskin et al?) to get rid of the
file-folder metaphor too. But perhaps with that goes the "save"
metaphor too, so it becomes a moot discussion.

Also, the argument could be made that the two icons (save/load) might
be too similar if they both involve a folder and an arrow. We don't
look at icons, we scan them for shape/color recognition. (Research
also shows that we "read" by the shape recognition of words*).

Not a bad idea though... I still don't know how to replace others (like
the microphone, envelope, paperclip, etc.)

* http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/WordRecognition.aspx

24 Apr 2006 - 1:16pm
Jeff Howard
2004

The folks over on Metafilter spent some time this weekend trying to deconstruct the origin of
the Pause symbol, complete with references to literature and music.
http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/36858

No one thinks of caesura or staff lines any more (if they ever did) they just see "pause". Same
thing with a lot of icons that have lost their metaphor and become simply a symbol. I think it's
interesting when things come full circle. Take the stop sign. Arbitrary. But it's so reinforced in
daily use that Transmit can use a Red Ocagon as a metaphor and it just works.

// jeff

24 Apr 2006 - 1:21pm
vutpakdi
2003

> Since 'load' is often represented as an arrow coming out of a folder,
> why not make 'save' an arrow going into a folder, as in 'to file it'.
> The metaphor is basic and common, and visually the manilla folder with
> be preserved in both major OSs until the end of time (even if
> real-world folders may fall into disuse).

I agree that the metaphor is basic, common, and consistent with the
"Load" metaphor. But, you are also reducing the difference between the
load and the save icons to a relatively small area, maybe 8x8 pixels at
most if you are using a 16x16 pixel icon.

Especially with older users, having to tell the difference between the
two icons which already are too small for their eyes will be a real pain
and also possibly lead to painful errors (especially since the dialog
that comes up looks almost identical (and it's easy for the user to just
gloss over the actual text in the dialog on autopilot).

I personally like using consistent metaphors, but, in this case, it
doesn't seem to be worthwhile even though the "save" icon is "outdated".

Ron

24 Apr 2006 - 1:26pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Apr 24, 2006, at 11:16 AM, Jeff Howard wrote:

> The folks over on Metafilter spent some time this weekend trying to
> deconstruct the origin of
> the Pause symbol, complete with references to literature and music.
> http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/36858
>
> No one thinks of caesura or staff lines any more (if they ever did)
> they just see "pause". Same
> thing with a lot of icons that have lost their metaphor and become
> simply a symbol. I think it's
> interesting when things come full circle. Take the stop sign.
> Arbitrary. But it's so reinforced in
> daily use that Transmit can use a Red Ocagon as a metaphor and it
> just works.
>

These icons are a lot more, well, iconic and representational than
the floppy disk for save or an envelope for email. As per the great
Understanding Comics, sometimes too much detail obscures the meaning
of an image. Two lines or a red octagonal figure do the job better
than a detailed image of a disk! Or look at the Mac OS X image of a
hard drive to represent the computer. I'm moderately computer-savvy,
but it took me a long time to figure out what that was.

Dan

24 Apr 2006 - 1:27pm
Alain D. M. G. ...
2003

Icons expire when their usage drops off. They're part of a visual
language that was never completely intuitive. In some places, even
before the 3 inch disquette came around, people saved to the network
and IT folks made backups all the time, so individuals never got to use
disquettes. The "home" icon on my Firefox browser looks like a doghouse
to me and the mailbox icon shows a North American rural mailbox which
is not used in the rest of the world. I could go on and on and on.

Alain Vaillancourt

>
> So when do icons expire?

__________________________________________________________
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24 Apr 2006 - 11:05am
spyboy
2006

How about misused Mailbox icon, with the little flag up indicating there's
mail in it (which really only makes sense for Postal Carriers, not end
users, since we only put up the flag to SEND mail).

Plus, since I've lived in apartments for the past few years, I have had a PO
Box style mailbox, not the curved top kind sitting at the end of the
driveway.

Kirk

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Bret
Hekking
Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 12:01 PM
To: discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Outdated Icons

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]

There's the ubiquitous 'envelope' icon for email. I'll bet there are younger
users out there who have never actually mailed a letter, unless it's a bill.

Bret Hekking

24 Apr 2006 - 2:32pm
Bill DeRouchey
2010

On Mon, 24 Apr 2006, Jeff Howard wrote:

> The folks over on Metafilter spent some time this weekend trying to deconstruct the origin of
> the Pause symbol, complete with references to literature and music.
> http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/36858

Ah it's a small world online. I'm the one who started that thread on the
Pause icon.

I think rethinking standard metaphors for icons needs to be done very
judiciously. As someone else said, "how" we save things will change
several times over the next 20 years, but can the same metaphor survive? I
think it probably can. Consider that now kids grow up with software. They
learn at a very early age that a 3.5" disk means Save. They don't need to
know the particulars of why, but it works. They make the association.

We still say "dial" someone even though we're pushing buttons. Even the
ubiquitous Play icon, the forward arrow, originally referred to the
direction the tape was moving. That reference doesn't exist anymore. If we
change icons based on current technologies, we will never catch up, while
confusing younger and older generations at the same time.

Plus, if we continue to use old telephone handsets, floppy disks,
dot-matrix printers, folders, magnifying classes, clipboards and such as
standard icons, maybe, just maybe, it'll give future generations a tieback
to the history of technology.

Bill

24 Apr 2006 - 5:10pm
Jon-Eric Steinbomer
2003

>Consider that now kids grow up with software. They
>learn at a very early age that a 3.5" disk means Save. They don't need
to
>know the particulars of why, but it works. They make the association.

This is very similar to the linguistic metaphors that we all use daily
but whose origins we rarely consider. If someone uses the phrase "get on
the bandwagon," I have no idea what that really means, but I immediately
understand the person's meaning based on previous associations and
context of use.

My guess is that we'll continue to see outdated icons so long as they
effectively communicate their intended meanings.

Jon-Eric

24 Apr 2006 - 5:24pm
Juan Lanus
2005

On 4/24/06, Bill DeRouchey <bill at flume.com> wrote:
> ... the forward arrow, originally referred to the
> direction the tape was moving.
Also, the direction I read and write. But how does a right-to-left
reader processes that "arrow"?
Which is, in fact, is not an arrow but a triangle that reminds us of
an arrow head: the icon's icon!
--
Juan Lanus

25 Apr 2006 - 4:11pm
mariaromera
2005

>>On 4/24/06, Bill DeRouchey <bill at flume.com> wrote:
>> ... the forward arrow, originally referred to the
>> direction the tape was moving.

>On 4/25, Juan Lanus <juan.lanus at gmail.com> wrote:
>Also, the direction I read and write. But how does a right-to-left
>reader processes that "arrow"?

Juan, in my experience with localization, just fine. Remember it's referring to a physical process (tape moving), not reading.

It's also interesting to note that when I ran user testing of Arabic text entry software in Cairo, I found out most people are writing text messages left-to-right using Roman letters instead of right-to-left in Arabic script. Why? Because most people had Nokia phones which shipped with the default language English, and although you could change it to Arabic most people didn't.
Because most technology has come from the West, the world has become largely familiar with Western ways to organize information. This is, of course, NOT to say that cultural sensitivity is not something we should strive for.

Cheers,
Maria

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