Friday, May 11, 2012 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Old People Icons

Scott Hanselman (via Paul Kafasis):

The world’s most advanced phones include an icon that looks like a phone handset that you haven’t touched in 20 years, unless you’ve used a pay phone recently.

Also:

At some time in the past the magnifying glass became the “search everywhere” icon, but for some reason binoculars are for searching within a document. This makes no sense as magnifying glasses are for searching things that are near and binoculars imply breadth of search and distance. These two commands should have had their icons reversed!

4 Comments

"The world’s most advanced phones include an icon that looks like a phone handset that you haven’t touched in 20 years, unless you’ve used a pay phone recently."

Assuming Hanselman's argument is sincere, rather than just a jape, it seems dead wrong to me.

Don't get me wrong. The skeuomorpism that districts from function in the Lion iCal.app UI is abominable. But icons are a different story. For icons, skeumorphism is often the correct idea, and obsolete skeumorphs are often the correct choice.

For example, Apple's Pages.app uses an inkwell and fountain pen for an icon. Hanselman would object that 99.9% of everybody alive has never used an inkwell and fountain pen. But it's a perfect icon for a word processor.

Similarly, "Carbon Copy Cloner" is a perfect name for that app, even if the last generation to actually use carbon copies is slowly dying off.

I'd suggest a reading of Phil Dick's Ubik for a good intro of how human consciousness relates to obsolete technology.

In short, the obsolete phone handset icon is a feature, not a bug. And it's got nothing to do with old people or young people.

@Chucky I mostly agree with you. However, I’ve never liked the floppy disk as a Save icon. For one thing, an unadorned disk could just as easily mean Load. But it’s a fun post, and I think he’s spot on about search.

"However, I’ve never liked the floppy disk as a Save icon."

Agree with you there. A very non-perfect icon. But everyone's been complaining about that for eons.

"I think he’s spot on about search."

Half and half. It's illogical as is, but the two icons shouldn't be switched. Binoculars would be a lousy icon for "search everywhere", just as they are a lousy icon for in-document search. Imagine the binoculars up in the far right of the menubar of OS X, and I think you can see the problem. Don't know the correct solution to the problem, but his proffered solution isn't optimal. (If anything, I'd go with the same magnifying glass icon for in-document search and let the context clue in the user, which is what Apple does with Pages and Microsoft does with Word, or use a magnifying glass superimposed on a document.)

@Chucky I don’t like the binoculars either, but if those are the two options they should be reversed.

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