History of Famous Technology Icons
A symbol is an object that
represents, stands for, or
suggests an idea, visual
image, belief, action, or
1: a usually pictorial representation : IMAGE
2: [Late Greek eikōn, from Greek] : a conventional religious image
typically painted on a small wooden panel and used in the devotions
of Eastern Christians
3: an object of uncritical devotion : IDOL
4: EMBLEM, SYMBOL <the house became an icon of 1960's residential
architecture — Paul Goldberger>
5a: a sign (as a word or graphic symbol) whose form
suggests its meaning
5b: a graphic symbol on a computer display screen that
usually suggests the type of object represented or the
purpose of an available function
What is an Icon?
• It is known as a ―snail‖ in Italy and a ―monkey tail‖ in the
Netherlands. For lack of better term Spanish and Portuguese used
―asperand‖ or ―ampersand‖ but did not achieve widespread use.
• As far back as the sixth century, @ was used as a ligature to
combine the letters of the Latin preposition ad into one pen
• It was used in Venetian and Spanish trade dealings as a unit of
measure. Eventually it came to mean ―at the rate of,‖ as in ―12
peaches @ $1.50—for a total of $18.‖
• By 1885 the symbol appeared on the American Underwood
typewriter, though it was used less and less over time.
• In1971 Ray Tomlinson, charged by the tech R&D company Bolt,
Beranek and Newman with developing a way to send messages
between computers on the ARPAnet.
• Ray decided to use the symbol in an early e-mail because it
naturally implied location—and was already on keyboards.
@ symbol used as the initial "a" for the "amin" (amen) formula in the Bulgarian
translation of the Manasses Chronicle (c. 1345).
@ used to signify French "à" ("at") from a 1674 protocol from a Swedish court
The Aragonese @ symbol used in
the 1448 "taula de Ariza" registry to
denote a wheat shipment from
Castile to the Kingdom of Aragon.
"Tomlinson performed a powerful act of
design that not only changed the @
sign's significance, but enabled it to
become an important part of our identity
in relationship and communication with
others.” – Sr. Curator MOMA
@ is the only icon to be included in the
MoMa’s architecture and design
Switch Off Your Phones
• During World War II, engineers started using a binary system to
label power buttons: 1 meant ―on,‖ and 0 meant ―off.‖ That system
evolved into this icon.
• It was created by the International Electrotechnical Commission
(IEC), which combined both numerals. The IEC intended it to mean
• Electronics Engineers later put forward a different definition:
Mac Air Keyboard
Copy – Paste
• Apple Key, Open-Apple Key, Pretzel Key, Squiggly Button, Meta
• Steve Jobs in 1983 made the Apple logo less ubiquitous. Until
then, the key was marked by the Macintosh fruit.
• Andy Hertzfeld from Mac development team, along with designer
Susan Kare, wound up choosing this looped square after leafing
through a dictionary of symbols.
• In ancient times it was put on homes and utensils to ward off bad
luck, and it’s still used as a ―local attraction‖ sign across Northern
• The symbol is also known as St. John’s Arms or Saint Hannes
cross, related to Swedish sankthanskors and Finnish
Cheese moulds with Saint John’s Arms motif, seen in the Finnish
National Museum, Helsinki.
Send Me The Song!
• The symbol for a short-distance wireless connection is derived
from two runes representing the initials of King Harald Bluetooth,
who ruled areas of Denmark and Norway in the 10th century.
• The Bluetooth logo is a bind rune merging the Younger Futhark
runes Runic letter (Hagall) (ᚼ) and Runic letter (Bjarkan) (ᚼ), King
• King Bluetooth was famous for uniting the Danish tribes; his
technological counterpart is a way to unite devices through the
exchange of signals.
• The name was suggested by Intel’s Jim Kardach, who was part of a
multi-company working group, and was intended to be
• The technology had to launch quickly, the group decided to go
with ―Bluetooth‖ until the marketing folks could come up with
something better, which they never did.
Where is my USB?
• This icon is based on Neptune’s trident, the mighty Dreizack.
• The circle, triangle, and square on the icon indicate different types
of electronic devices that can be connected.
• The FireWire symbol was designed by Apple in 1995.
• It is used to indicate a way to rapidly transfer data between
devices – faster than USB.
• The three icon prongs represent video, audio, and data.
• Initially, the symbol was red, but was later altered to yellow for
unknown reasons – but not all devices use it in color.
No FireWire slot?
External Hard Drive
• Ethernet icon was designed by IBM’s David Hill.
• The icon resembles three connected computers.
• It was intended to depict a network of multiple devices.
Seriously? No WiFi!
Dell Studio Hybrid
Gizmodo points out, the
symbol looks a lot like
Ethernet inventor Bob
Metcalfe’s early sketches of the