Iconography: the good and the bad

Hanselman had my attention with his seminal article on the painfully anachronistic icons we still use to this day in computing (long after their relevance to everyday life has passed):

http://www.hanselman.com/blog/TheFloppyDiskMeansSaveAnd14OtherOldPeopleIconsThatDontMakeSenseAnymore.aspx

Today I had the pleasure of a different take on some of the most noteworthy icons in computing:

http://visual.ly/origins-common-ui-symbols

What does all this mean to me?

  1. We need to remain aware of the meaning of how we summarize expected actions/outcomes in our interfaces, and try very hard to connect to the target user. Making them learn our meaning just because we’re too lazy to learn theirs is a massive fail
  2. Cultural context is key – just because those of us with the experience of growing up at a certain time in middle-class North America are aware of what a certain visual used to mean, doesn’t mean the other 6 billion are just as “intuitively clueful”. I got to grow up in the shadow of the US and am keenly aware of how easy it is to assume that “everyone is like us, right?
  3. Sometimes an outcome has no analogue or universal meaning in our experience, and we should pick something with elegance or abstract individuality. I’m a big fan of doing it right, but when there is no “right”, do it artfully.
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