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Icons Behaving Badly


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The design behind adding interactivity to an application or website seems trivial; download a free icon collection from sites such as Flaticon, Font Awesome, or iconmonstr, pick an appropriate icon, and add the image to your work. However, should there be more to this process, especially if you are concerned about people understanding how to use what you develop? Learn why the "5-second rule" doesn't apply just to picking food off the floor, how the wrong icon can show cultural insensitivity, why the manner icons are placed in a website or app may be as important as the images themselves, and how to perform icon usability tests. You may be surprised which icons users find to be generally instantly recognizable as to what functions they relate, and which others not so much.

Published in: Design
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Icons Behaving Badly

  1. 1. @malekontheweb Andrew Malek @malekontheweb
  2. 2. @malekontheweb What do we mean by “Icons Behaving Badly”?
  3. 3. @malekontheweb
  4. 4. @malekontheweb Quick Definition of Computer Icon “…an icon is a pictogram or ideogram displayed on a computer screen in order to help the user navigate a computer system or mobile device. The icon itself is a quickly comprehensible symbol of a software tool, function, or a data file, accessible on the system and is more like a traffic sign than a detailed illustration of the actual entity it represents.” - Wikipedia
  5. 5. @malekontheweb
  6. 6. @malekontheweb Susan Kare’s Original Mac Icons -
  7. 7. @malekontheweb Example of Windows 3.1 Icons © Microsoft
  8. 8. @malekontheweb iPhone OS 1 Icons © Apple
  9. 9. @malekontheweb
  10. 10. @malekontheweb Cave Paintings -
  11. 11. @malekontheweb Hieroglyphics -
  12. 12. @malekontheweb Road Signs
  13. 13. @malekontheweb What Makes a Good Icon? When possible, recognizable before activation Photorealism not required Culturally sensitive and aware Consistent look with other icons Explained when needed Consistency in location and activatability Tested
  14. 14. @malekontheweb Recognizable Before Activation User has general idea of icon function “Five Second Rule” Avoids fear of unknown Very few are close to 100% recognizable… Recognition may depend on context Recognition can be symbolic Once recognized, keep functionality static
  15. 15. @malekontheweb “Five Second Rule” “if it takes you more than 5 seconds to think of an appropriate icon for something, it is unlikely that an icon can effectively communicate that meaning.” - Aurora Haley Nielsen Norman Group
  16. 16. @malekontheweb Do These Pass the Test? +    
  17. 17. @malekontheweb Hamburger Menu 2015 study: Ages 18-44, 80.6% understand Ages 45-64, 52.4% understand mobile-hamburger-menu-anyone-get/ “The MENU button was clicked by 20% more unique visitors than the HAMBURGER button.”
  18. 18. @malekontheweb Hamburger Menu (continued) 240,000 users, 6 weeks 4 variations of the hamburger menu all brought more conversions (menu in different color, text- only, hamburger menu + text, etc.) hamburger-icon-revenue/
  19. 19. @malekontheweb Please consider labeled hamburger menus
  20. 20. @malekontheweb Photoshop toolbars over years (from Adobe)
  21. 21. @malekontheweb Icons Can be Symbolic Icon does not have to look exactly like its function, but can be a symbol that lets user figure out intended function…
  22. 22. @malekontheweb Floppy Means Save, Still??? Test given in 2013 by Lis Pardi, Experience Designer 131 people in the 18-25 year range 96% recognized a floppy disk 80% said it represented save, with even others with answers such as storage, memory, files -
  23. 23. @malekontheweb Floppy Disk are Obsolete, but… “Dial” someone on telephone… “Page” an employee… Making a “mixtape”…
  24. 24. @malekontheweb Keep Functionality Static Never use an icon for two different functions  : add an item to shopping cart, or view shopping cart  : close a dialog, or delete an item  : compose, or edit  : reply, or undo, or go back
  25. 25. @malekontheweb
  26. 26. @malekontheweb “Realistic” Icons Skeuomorphism – Looking like the real world (icons courtesy Dellipack and Dellipack2, Smashing Magazine)
  27. 27. @malekontheweb Windows 8 © Microsoft Corporation
  28. 28. @malekontheweb iOS7 © Apple
  29. 29. @malekontheweb Android 5 (Material Design) - Google
  30. 30. @malekontheweb Photorealism Not Required In flat design, icons do not have to be photorealistic, but provide just enough visual detail for someone to ascertain its function Simple geometric shapes – shading not required, but can be 3 dimensional if needed
  31. 31. @malekontheweb Photorealism Not Required (2) Some arguments for: Removes visual clutter Allows for more generic icons that can be learned and used across apps Fine details might be lost on tiny icons, especially on mobile devices
  32. 32. @malekontheweb Flat Design Icon Examples  for a camera (image edit, view photo, photo capture)  for a credit card (billing, payment)  for a bell (reminder, appointment)  for a person (contact, personal details)
  33. 33. @malekontheweb Flat / Material Design in Vogue Ideas may change later … Break mold, … or offer icons now becoming familiar
  34. 34. @malekontheweb Culturally Sensitive and Aware - b  
  35. 35. @malekontheweb Flags – for languages?
  36. 36. @malekontheweb BioWare Social Network -
  37. 37. @malekontheweb Flags: Bad Idea for Language Switch One language – many countries One country – many languages Country can change flags “Nationalistic connotations” - selection/ - link-lang#flags
  38. 38. @malekontheweb Facebook language selection
  39. 39. @malekontheweb Google language selection
  40. 40. @malekontheweb Other Ideas James Offer, experience designer, wrote a blog: “Flags are Not Languages” 
  41. 41. @malekontheweb Where to Find Icons Hard to find one perfect icon set Often use variety of free and commercial sets Flaticon - Font Awesome - Iconmonstr - Icons8 -
  42. 42. @malekontheweb Creating Icon Sets Fontello - - Create icon fonts FontForge - - Open source editor – Linux, Mac, Windows FortAwesome - - Commercial - icons hosted via a CDN IcoMoon - – SVG and other formats, commercial options available
  43. 43. @malekontheweb Consistent Look with Other Icons  Avoid confusion – try to avoid combining:  One color flat  Multicolor flat  Photorealistic  With and without shading / perspective  3D and top-down views  Outline and solid  All circular and all square, etc.  Rotated and non-rotated  Line stroke widths
  44. 44. @malekontheweb Assorted E-Mail Icons
  45. 45. @malekontheweb More Information… Article “How to Combine Icons from Different Sets in Your UI”, written by Andrew Burmistrov of Icons8 “Consistency. Consistency. Consistency.”  icons-from-different-sets-in-your-ui/
  46. 46. @malekontheweb
  47. 47. @malekontheweb
  48. 48. @malekontheweb Explained When Needed If a standard system icon is not applicable If chosen icon fails “five second rule” If audience includes those less tech savvy Especially on mobile, where tooltips do not apply
  49. 49. @malekontheweb Labels – screenshots © Spotify, DailyMotion, StubHub, TuneIn
  50. 50. @malekontheweb “The Importance of Labels” Regarding Outlook 1998 Jensen Harris, Microsoft “one change caused a total turnaround…”  11/01/the-importance-of-labels/
  51. 51. @malekontheweb “Making Your Icons User-Friendly” “Labels dramatically increase the usability of icons.” Hannah Alvarez August 4, 2015  ser-friendly-ui-icons/
  52. 52. @malekontheweb Icons and Labels “In the battle of clarity between icons and labels, labels always win.” Joshua Porter, product designer "A word is worth a thousand pictures.“ Bruce Tognazzini html
  53. 53. @malekontheweb Icon and Label Tips Ensure icon and label can both be pressed Keep text shown at all times, especially on mobile More tips: ons-as-part-of-a-great-user-experience/
  54. 54. @malekontheweb Consistency in Location & Activatability Icons cannot be too small to see … to touch … nor can they be jammed too close together… nor can they be in confusing locations
  55. 55. @malekontheweb Recommended Icon Size Average adult finger is 11mm wide app-541a6728e7d4 Some say 16-20mm wide, based on MIT study design-ideal-mobile-touch-target-sizes/
  56. 56. @malekontheweb Recommended Icon Size (2) UWP apps: actual target size minimum 7 mm square us/windows/uwp/input-and-devices/guidelines-for- targeting Material Design: physical size 9mm square (48x48dp) keylines.html iOS: 44pt x 44pt (~ 7 mm square) guidelines/visual-design/adaptivity-and-layout/
  57. 57. @malekontheweb Recommended Icon Size (3) UWP: 2 mm padding, plus 2 mm padding between targets, for total size minimum 11 x 11 mm Material Design: 8dp space between icons, total target size 7-10 mm iOS: “Ensure adequate margins and spacing around content”
  58. 58. @malekontheweb Consistent Location As shown earlier, “Bottom navigation”, popularized in Material Design m-navigation.html
  59. 59. @malekontheweb Icon and Label / Button Positioning Keep labels very close to icons Icons typically appear to the left or above labels, unless icon is purely decorative (LTR) 140 user study showed slower response times if icons were to the right of a label menu-designs-iconography Same with buttons containing icons (on left)
  60. 60. @malekontheweb Testing Icons As with the rest of UI, icon testing is important As with all tests, try to test a portion of your actual users If impossible (time & money), do hallway testing, but note there will be biases Assure testers there are no wrong answers Can do in person with paper, online form, or remotely
  61. 61. @malekontheweb A/B Testing Describe function, show 2+ icons, ask which one is “best”. Example: Download File 1. 2. 3.
  62. 62. @malekontheweb Multiple Choice Testing Show an icon, 3-4 options, ask which matches?  1. Change password 2. Security settings 3. Lock account from changes
  63. 63. @malekontheweb Open-Ended Testing Show an icon, ask user to write down a very brief meaning on a card At end, sort and tally results Example:
  64. 64. @malekontheweb Find the Icon Testing Describe function, show wireframe / screenshot Example: Browse for new music (Screenshot from Spotify, labels cropped)
  65. 65. @malekontheweb Example of Testing Result Goal: View birthdays Idea: What people thought: “factory”, “smokestack”, “fire” Decided Upon (with label):
  66. 66. @malekontheweb Example of Testing Result Goal: Emoji of a face - dizzy Idea: What people think: “dead”, “astonished” “Frustrated or triumphant? You are probably sending the wrong signals by using these 12 commonly misunderstood emojis”  article-3549376/
  67. 67. @malekontheweb Keep Icons From “Behaving Badly” Keep them away from bright light Don’t get them wet
  68. 68. @malekontheweb Keep Icons From “Behaving Badly” As possible, use icons already familiar to users Don’t rely on photorealism Be respectful of other cultures Keep a consistent look throughout app/site Label icons Be consistent in location and usability Test, test, test!
  69. 69. Andrew Malek @malekontheweb
  70. 70. @malekontheweb