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For GUIs, Just the Right Degree of Realism

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  • by suso (153703) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @09:41AM (#30858678) Homepage Journal

    Just yesterday, I was commenting on twitter about how the new icon sets for youtube videos are rather confusing. It took a bit of staring to figure out what these icons [suso.org] do. Nobody was able to guess the right answer. C_64 had the funniest answer though by saying "You can only go 8 bits forward or 8 bits to the left ?"

    • by Z00L00K (682162) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:09AM (#30858864) Homepage

      But regardless of age there are good and bad icons. Newer icons aren't better, and often they seem to be even more confusing than many old icons.

      It's time to realize that a clean strict interface for the users is often better than all those flashy colors, gradients and animations that wastes time and productivity. Look into what users really do, not what you think the users should do with your software.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jellomizer (103300)

        Well much like the TFA stated it is really a balancing act. Adding enough detail to get the point across but not to much to make it distracting or to detailed for the concept. Colors and gradients do help when used correctly. Eg. when you represent a button it will need to be colored in a way that it appears to be 3d, or a toggle control will need some gradients in it to make it look more then a box in a box. Heck even putting a shadow under the active window to help it stand out.

    • by Speare (84249) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:17AM (#30858972) Homepage Journal

      There's no such thing as "intuitive" computer interfaces. Instead, you want your interfaces to be "discoverable" and to build on other trained discoveries in a consistent way.

      From that example of the new YouTube buttons, I agree they're bizarre. Pretty much any button that JUST shows an arrow is useless for discoverability. Does the arrow mean 'move' or 'grow' or 'next' or some other action? By "discover," we don't mean to literally experiment with invoking the button to see what it does-- many people are too timid to press anything they don't already understand. Instead, discovery involves finding that there IS a button that PROBABLY does what you already intend to do. For example, follow the mental conversation: "this window is too small, I want to make it bigger, there's got to be a button around here somewhere for making it bigger, oh aha! that one looks like a dark box getting bigger, so let me try that, yep, that's better."

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ukab the Great (87152)

        oh aha! that one looks like a dark box getting bigger

        In HCI the technical term for this is an affordance [wikipedia.org]

      • by Foolicious (895952) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:06AM (#30859524)

        many people are too timid to press anything they don't already understand

        Given my experience in IT in corporate America, I would say that this is not only not the case, but REALLY not the case.

        • My experience is that people will click with wild abandon when they shouldn't, and be deathly afraid to do anything when there's no real harm involved.

          These are the people who will install anything they damn well please, change important settings for absolutely no reason "because it seemed like a good idea", set passwords on things that don't need passwords and then forget them, forward phone A to phone B and phone B to phone A because "I wanted them both to ring if I got a call," and other general nonsense. They have no problem screwing around to their heart's content and breaking everything and never learning.

          That same person will also submit endless tickets or place endless helpdesk calls because they were afraid to change a trivial setting that involves a single, labelled checkbox, because "I wasn't sure if that would mess anything up."
      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by stewbacca (1033764)

        There's no such thing as "intuitive" computer interfaces.

        I disagree completely. As a matter of fact, your next sentences proves that there is such a thing as intuitive interfaces by the fact that an intuitive interface is also "discoverable".

        However, that does NOT mean that intuitive interfaces are derived from previous knowledge. This is why people who jump to OSX from Windows have such a hard time with the "intuitive" interface of OSX. They grew used to a poor interface (Window Whatever) and then brought those bad habits with them.

        A truly intuitive interface is

      • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:03PM (#30860236) Journal

        There's no such thing as "intuitive" computer interfaces.

        No there are lots of intuitive interfaces, there just aren't many (if any) "universal" interfaces. You can give me flack for it, but I'm going to go ahead and say that the Slashdot comment interface is very intuitive. I know the reply button starts a reply. The Cancel button cancels it. The option button lets me see various options. Very intuitive, I have not needed to press any of these buttons to know their respective meaning. That by definition makes it intuitive.

        However, if I was from Japan, I wouldn't have any clue what any of these buttons mean. I'd probably get so fed up with it I'd request a Japanese version of Slashdot.

        So what it comes down to is trying to make something universally understood. Surprisingly enough, any country that has vehicular traffic uses Green for Go and Red for stop. Whether thats based on open standards or some psychological root, I don't know. So if you had an option that you could start or stop, putting the same image in green and the other in red would show which one starts it and which one stops it. Similarily, the symbols on every Media player for Play, Pause, Rewind, Fast Forward, Stop, and Record are also Universal across the planet. So it makes sense to put them on any application that plays media.

        There are a handful of things like this out there. It's not impossible to create an intuitive computer interface. The tricky part is to make it universal across all demographics of people who will use it, especially if there is a language barrier. This is where icons with the help of tooltip popups can be great.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Jeremy Erwin (2054)

          However, if I was from Japan, I wouldn't have any clue what any of these buttons mean. I'd probably get so fed up with it I'd request a Japanese version of Slashdot.

          Slashdot Japan [slashdot.jp]. So far as I can tell , it's a different set of articles.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by El_Muerte_TDS (592157)

          You can give me flack for it, but I'm going to go ahead and say that the Slashdot comment interface is very intuitive. I know the reply button starts a reply. The Cancel button cancels it. The option button lets me see various options. Very intuitive, I have not needed to press any of these buttons to know their respective meaning. That by definition makes it intuitive.

          And the "Quote Parent" button adds the prefix "My daddy always used to say ..." to your reply.

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        I don't push things I don't understand. That's how people get viruses when human interaction is required, or delete data accidentally.

        Your suggestion is basically when you think there's something available, click things that look like they might work, when you have no idea what they will do.

        Here's an example from Vista, just because it's fresh in my mind. I click a zip file and IE asks me what to do - save or open. I always want to save, so I click "Don't ask" checkbox and "Save". Next time, instead of

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      My car's interior is the worst example of that. Thanks to the internationalization of the automobile industry (and having no set standards), every control in my car (and many others) is now identified by an icon instead of a label. And many of the icons make no sense whatsoever. So every time I get in a new rental car, I have to figure out whether I'm turning on the heater or the windshield wipers with this control, or what the mysterious smiley-face-looking button does. They build a $20000+ car and can't s
      • Thanks to the internationalization of the automobile industry (and having no set standards), every control in my car (and many others) is now identified by an icon instead of a label.

        I agree, that is often pretty annoying but it's worse with computers -

        Why the hell do you need icons in the first place? You can change the interface for a given language with localization files. You can use simple declarative text in a button with less ambiguity. If you change the language, change the text. If your inter

        • If they just used text instead of icons, the text would seem mashed together with adjacent text to the point where it would be difficult to distinguish where to stop and where to start reading.

          Icons, while sometimes fail to convey the functionality properly, at least manage to display a clear separation between one function and the other.

          • True to an extent, but as has been pointed out, modern screens often have lots of resolution - plenty for text. Perhaps in small screen cases like the iPhone you're point is more valid.

            But, OK, everybody raise their hands who've seen a full screen application with plenty of screen space with eight strange icons consisting of squiggles, circles, arrows and something resembling a thunderbolt.

            Thought so....
            • everybody raise their hands who've seen a full screen application with plenty of screen space

              The developer doesn't know that will have plenty out of screen space. Perhaps the developer was trying to avoid the problem of Inkscape and several other apps in the Ubuntu repository that do not run properly on my netbook because they require a screen taller than 600px. I've seen it happen on my cousin's Windows netbook too, with the SUPER video converter.

        • Why the hell do you need icons in the first place? You can change the interface for a given language with localization files. You can use simple declarative text in a button with less ambiguity.

          Icons speed understanding and free up screen space. The first example I can see in front of me is that of a web browser. If the 'back' button was large enough to have 'back' written on it in readable text, it would be three or four times the size with reduced functionality, since a foreigner would have to find their way into the language options to be able to tell what it did. When we get on to buttons like 'refresh' or 'close tab', I think you can see how quickly screen space would be used up.

          Additionally,

    • The biggest problem in UI design is using graphics for controls at all. USE WORDS! People not only know what clicking somewhere does, but they can search for the button they want with CTRL-F.

      The only time you should use graphics for controls is when you're designing something your users will use frequently throughout the day every day. Then they will have a chance to learn your symbols and will appreciate the screenspace saving. The other 99% of apps should use no icon sets. Users can read. Take advantage o

      • I tried an all-words interface recently for an interactive training module at work. I tried to model it after the Adobe Light Room interface. I liked it a lot, but it didn't get a good reception. Seems our business dev people are more concerned with teh shiny than they are functionality.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Maybe I'm just old (well, I am) but I absolutely HATE icons, on my computer screen and in my car and other devices. Icons are for illiterates (including those who are literate in other languages).

      Most icons are abysmal. IE's icon is a lower case "e" on what appears to be paper; if you had never used IE you would have no clue that it was a web browser. I'm thankful that they put text underneath the icons so I can tell WTF the icon is for, but the text makes the icon redundant. Having an icon without the text

    • All I have to say about Handbrake is fuck that icon. I don't use the program that often at all. A few months back I wanted to convert some media files, I'm on vista so I hit the Win key and try to type in the app name. Now what was that program called, OK I remember the Icon was a pineapple with a drink next to it; I tried blender and about six different drink names, trying to come up with the name. I ended up having to Google the name

    • by ewieling (90662)
      Which is less confusing, a little icon that looks sort of like a toaster, or a button that says "PRINT"? Obviously the little icon that sort of looks like a toaster or they would not have removed words from the buttons.
    • by PitaBred (632671)

      I'm guessing they rotate the video 90 degrees in either direction?

    • In far more interfaces than not (media players, custom app buttons, etc) I have to resort to hovering over a given control to wait for the tooltip and learn what it does. The problem here is as we more into customized/unique-appearing apps, the learning we have done that says "this is what thing-X should look like" becomes less relevant. And since no two applications are standardizing on the same interfaces, there's essentially a learning curve for each one whereas in the past learning the first would al
  • Thank you. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cornwallis (1188489) on Friday January 22, 2010 @09:54AM (#30858764)

    Really. That was a very nice article that made me think about some things I've never really considered.

    • Re:Thank you. (Score:4, Informative)

      by stewbacca (1033764) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:08PM (#30860292)

      Really. That was a very nice article that made me think about some things I've never really considered.

      I work in the field of design (mostly designing computer-based training) and can tell you that your sentiment is more common than not. Most people never think of design or how it impacts their daily lives.

      Because of this, I always suggest two books: The Design of Every Day Things and The Non-Designer's Design Book.

      Once you read these two books, you'll never look at things the same way again. You'll start noticing poorly designed things EVERYWHERE and wonder why it wasn't made better. You'll even formulate your own ways of making it better, which in turn (generally speaking) makes your own work better.

  • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Friday January 22, 2010 @09:54AM (#30858768)
    If you're looking for a generic UI than I suppose easy to recognize generic symbols are the best. However, my dream is to make the UIs that actually mimic reality but the trick is keeping them fairly usuable still. I don't want it to be cartoonish, I want you to look at the UI and mistake it for a fantastic physical machine rather than a monitor. For example, if you look at the themes on the exchange [enlightenment.org] site for e17, a lot of these not what you'd call an every day sort of theme but appeal to a particular aesthetic. Examples include steampunk [enlightenment.org], grunge [enlightenment.org], and baroque [enlightenment.org] that incorporate photo realistic elements with varying efficacy (e.g. baroque is a cool concept but very hard on the eyes). The idea is to make the living-room computer more than just a tool, but a functional piece of art.

    What I'd love to do is make a theme that looks like the 1960s version of futuristic computers and space ship aesthetic from the movie 2001, with light-bulb lit buttons of different colored plastic, lots of milled metal highlights and dark plastic everywhere.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by halcyon1234 (834388)

      For example, if you look at the themes on the exchange site for e17, a lot of these not what you'd call an every day sort of theme but appeal to a particular aesthetic

      There's an important difference: layout familiarity.

      Chances are anyone who uses a program enough to want to theme it is already familiar with all the control they will use. They've already associated "upper corner, second button from the left" with the "home" button. They can change the appearance of the button, because they don't rely on the

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by imakemusic (1164993)

      Sounds awesome! Don't think I'd want to use it for any length of time though...

      I am surprised at the lack of interesting interfaces though. Windows, OSX and most Linux distros are all basically variations on a theme - you've got your program windows, your menu (at the bottom or at the top, or if you're really feeling wild at the side!) and that's about it. Everything is grouped either vertically or horizontally - obviously curves are harder to program, but surely not that difficult? How about a menu that ra

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheKidWho (705796)

        It's called KISS. No, not the band, but KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.

        • Yeah, I see what you're saying. There is definitely a benefit to having consistency between machines (especially if you're a sys admin) but it seems to me that there is a lot of room for improvement in areas that are neglected while things that work fine get a pointless overhaul. Maybe I'm just bored with it...

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Pretty, but ultimately not useful.

    • I've used software with that photo-realistic, it's a fantastic machine UI that you are a fan of and I did not like it one bit. My problem with making fancy physical looking machines on a monitor is the fact I still can't interact with it very well. It's just a flat image that I can only manipulate with a handful of mouse gestures. "Can I click this? Do I drag that? I did not know that lever moved!" It basically hides a bunch of functionality in plain view and really confuses the heck out of me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by qazwart (261667)

      I think this is actually one of the problems with Linux interfaces. They get so stuck on the THEME and not much on user usability.

      When Mac OSX first came out, it was bright and colorful. Icons were eye popping. Over the various iterations, Apple toned down the interface. It went from candy striped to stainless steel to steel gray, icons became simpler, and color was more carefully used. The early Aqua theme did its job of making the Mac look eye popping fresh compared to Windows. XP even took the cartoony c

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jedidiah (1196)

        > The taskbar can only be on the bottom or side. Yet, the Mac OSX interface is the standard that other GUIs try to meet.

        That has more to do with hype and ignorance than anything else.

        It's somewhat exclusive. You need to buy special hardware for it. So all you ever hear about
        it are mostly the fanboy accounts. The way Macs are marketed tends to keep the casual tinkerers
        away. Someone without a pro-Apple agenda is unlikely to use a Mac to any meaningful degree.

        So it becomes something more mythical than real.

    • But when you look at those screenshots, you see that the more "real" it is the less usable it is. The steampunk is a good exmaple - it gives an impression of dimension and reality, but that impression has *no* effect on function. This means in terms of making the system easier to comprehend, it's a step backward -- now you have something aesthetically appealing, but functionally confusing. The meaning conveyed by the eye candy is actively misleading unless you already know the system to begin with.
  • many words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Odinlake (1057938) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:07AM (#30858842)
    My, that was many words to say one thing over and over and over again. Pretty pictures though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by IBBoard (1128019)

      And at the end of it I still don't know how abstract a picture should be - unless you count "just abstract enough" as an answer!

      I was hoping for some insight and all I got was pretty pictures and hand-waving :(

    • Sorry the rest of us aren't as intelligent as you and needed an article that was articulate and persuasive in its repetition--you know, those elements of good writing we were taught in high school and college? It's nice to see a technical article on slashdot actually demonstrate some literary skill for once instead of dumping it in order to make more room in one's brain for abstract lines of code.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:08AM (#30858856) Journal
    Of the period in the early to mid 90's when pretty much every second-string audio player program, and there were a fair few in those days, decided that the One True Interface for any audio program was an inscrutable bitmap reproduction of a knobs-n'-sliders 70's stereo system?
    • by jellomizer (103300) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:34AM (#30859154)

      Early to the Mid 90's is when most computers were able to do at least 640x480x8bit this was a big deal, before we were stuck on 320x200 resolution for 8bits (if you were lucky, I was a 320x200 2bits CGA) But in short this is when computers now able to show photo realistic pictures. And many developers have long waited for the ability to make programs that look so much like the real thing, As the earlier systems required a lot of artistry to come up with a cartoonish icon at best. So it was really a large scale experiment on how realistic you can make your program... What happened over time was people realized that being to realistic wasn't helpful and overlaying a 3d Interface with 2d controls was counter productive

  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:18AM (#30858996) Homepage

    While this guy talks about realism, he's missing the point. If we didn't have each software designer creating its own visual language, then we wouldn't have the issue of how well that language is designed.

    When Microsoft has its own set of hieroglyphics, and Apple has theirs, and Adobe has theirs, and each OSS has its own language--which is similar to some existing commercial language to leverage user experience, but different enough to avoid getting sued--then the issue is not how well these languages are designed.

    The issue is, why should the user need to learn a new language for each application?

    You may say, well, if you put all your commands in English, then only English speakers can use your app. Fair enough. But if you put all your commands in some bespoke language spoken by no one, doesn't it follow then no one can use your app?

    Designers, pick an existing language used by your target market. Is that real enough?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Eraesr (1629799)
      When Microsoft has its own set of hieroglyphics, and Apple has theirs, and Adobe has theirs, and each OSS has its own language--which is similar to some existing commercial language to leverage user experience, but different enough to avoid getting sued--then the issue is not how well these languages are designed.

      The issue is, why should the user need to learn a new language for each application?


      I think the real underlying problem is that each software engineer has his own set of rules as well. Behavio
      • Each company's respective set of hieroglyphics is only as good as their respective Human Factors Engineers have made them. Some companies put more work (spend more money, hire better talent, emphasize that aspect, whatever) into the UI than others. It is a cornerstone of Apple products, for example, and often an after-thought for Microsoft products. Both companies are very successful and make lots of money, so as long as your hieroglyphics are speaking to the right customer, then I think it's ok.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by El_Muerte_TDS (592157)

      You may say, well, if you put all your commands in English, then only English speakers can use your app.

      Actually, you don't have to be able to speak English. As long as you can read it you're fine.

    • by P-Nuts (592605)
      There isn't enough room on the screen for all the icons in a complex program to be written out in English.
      • There isn't enough room on the screen for all the icons in a complex program *snip*

        And that's part of the problem.

    • Part of intuitiveness is recognizability. You may disagree, but the fact that you almost certainly understood my last sentence even though "recognizability" is not actually part of the existing English language, lends at least a little bit of credence the other way. If you want to talk about building interfaces off of already recognizable "standards" that makes good sense, but if you want to compare UI elements to elements in a language, then part of the fun is that the dictionary is always growing. Your
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      It's a matter of being cheap and lazy. They put a stylized picture of a light on your car's dash so they don't have to spell "headlight" in as many languages as they have markets.

      I'd pay a few extra bucks for a Toyota if it said "headlights" in English.

  • SAP is one of the worst offenders, but I have to say I've seen the largest collection of poorly thought out icons at work, where someone puts on a dog and pony show to convince our company to buy things, and our company bites without trying it out on a few users first.

    I hate having to 'mouse-over' an icon to find out what it does, and even worse is when it doesn't have a tooltip. Corporate software seems to be where the worst designs live because anything else is quickly abandoned in favor of something int

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:27AM (#30859078)

    I wish there were more studies about how some people (such as myself) simply cannot deduce the meaning of icons without a lot of effort. Some of the "meaningful" icons presented in the article still don't mean anything to me. I'm constantly hovering over the same icons to get the "tooltip" to tell me what I'm looking for. CLI? No problem...the command I need is instantly in my grasp. GUI? I'm forever having to stop, pause, and process icons to figure out what the hell they actually mean. GUI menus with words instead of icons are the best for me in the GUI world: Instant recognition, no extra processing steps required.

    Am I the only icon-impaired person out there?

    • You're not alone (Score:4, Interesting)

      by lyinhart (1352173) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:43AM (#30859248)
      You're not alone. In The Humane Interface [wikipedia.org], Jef Raskin rightfully pointed out that descriptive text beats icons on any day. I believe he even cited studies that supported his claims. But in documents pertaining to the original Macintosh (a project Raskin led before Steve Jobs made it his pet project), developers were encouraged to use icons instead of text whereever possible.

      Icons are used for two purposes - they generally take up a fixed number of pixels that generally use less space than text and they look pretty. The first reason is moot since even the cheapest display devices can spit out high resolution images with lots of space for text. And even if there isn't enough space, text labels can always be hidden via collapsible menus. Text can also be scaled to larger and smaller sizes as needed. The second reason is probably one of the biggest selling points for operating systems with pretty GUIs, e.g. Mac OS X. But with text labels, there's far less ambiguity about what they mean.

      Of course, there are situations where icons would be preferable. If you can't translate descriptive text for buttons in other languages, then an icon might be more convenient to use. And of course, they look good. I doubt the iPhone would sell so well if the pretty icons were replaced by text.
      • by jgtg32a (1173373)

        From the Wiki article, I haven't read the book, it doesn't seem to say that Text is better than Icons; it says that Icons w/o text are worse than Icon w/ text. I personally agree with that, I can locate something based on its Icon than I can find a string of text, even if they are the same size.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by stewbacca (1033764)

        Jef Raskin rightfully pointed out that descriptive text beats icons on any day.

        Not quite. Cognition depends on the learner's preference. Text beats icons any day for people who's cognition works that way.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Toy G (533867)

        Icons have a big advantage you don't mention: they don't need to be translated (in most cases).
        I'm currently developing a program for mobile phones, and by using icons almost exclusively, I have almost-zero translation costs, and can sell it to a few billion non-English-speakers without worrying too much.

        (as usual, there are exceptions -- some icons simply don't work outside their cultural context, but that's a problem that good icon-makers know they should avoid. For example, showing a stylized European me

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Icons are semantically shallow.

        They have no inherent properties of extensibility or composability. A certain amount of design attention can productively go into icons, just as font design has an important role in readability. But to stop there is just about as smart as sticking with Roman numerals.

        Icons, also, don't translate into speech. Who here has not at one time or another had to walk someone over the phone through a user interface by saying something like, "Okay, before you go ahead and click
    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      The Tango project tried to stay multi-lingual and meaningful to as many people as possible by representing the action rather than playing word games. They did still have huge problems with ideas for some icons, though, as the concepts were just too vague. I tend to find the Tango icons quite sensible for meanings, but someone must have done some image processing and interpretation research on them.

      I don't suppose you'll ever get perfect recognition, since most of the actions on a computer can be quite abstr

  • by jamesh (87723)

    I forget what the application (or was it a game?) was... probably on the Amiga. The 'pause' button was a pair of animal footprints... paws.

    In the Clarion 5.x Development environment the 'compile and run' button is a little blue cloud with a bunch of lines off to the right, presumably to indicate movement. Most people i've spoken to know that icon as the 'blue fart'.

    To be fair, there is only so much you can do in 8x8 or 16x16 pixels...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Nyxeh (701219)
      It was lemmings with the 'paws' button iirc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nkh (750837)
      The game Lemmings had something like the footprints you describe to pause the game.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by MisterZimbu (302338)

      The "paws" icon is from Lemmings. I could imagine it being in other games too, though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by imakemusic (1164993)

      Lemmings is the game you're think of.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BlackSash (1420967)

      That would likely be the original Lemmings. Now there was a game that got some of its UI elements correct!
      The hell with icons, let's just depict the actual thing the little dullards will do!

      Want to kill them all? Hit the NUKE button.

      Ahhh good times, good times...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HTH NE1 (675604)

      Puns don't belong as icons. For one, they fail i18n.

      I forget what the application (or was it a game?) was... probably on the Amiga. The 'pause' button was a pair of animal footprints... paws.

      I believe the peer-to-peer file sharing application BearShare also used a paw print for a "Pause" button.

      I work on development of an application (I won't name) where there is a set of icons I long to replace which use a blue gear and a gray octagon with "1c" printed in it (where c is the cent sign), both outlined in black, to symbolize "Change Options". It's not even a copper penny to represent the verb change: it is a steel penny! And these symbols take u

  • by bickerdyke (670000) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:28AM (#30859092)

    That guy is 100% right, but there isn't anything new, let alone newsworthy in that post.
    But it has a few nice examples.

    On the other hand, that guy completly misses the intresting points: How did we end up with a "house" as an icon for your personal files* or a "cog" as a symbol for additional commands in the first place? A Leaf for a Web-Editor? A Trumpet for Network Connection? Lighthouse for a webbrowser?

    * That one sounds easy for an IT-pro who knows that the concept of a "home directory" is older than icons - but that only makes this meaning of "home" an old one, and not an intuitive one.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      Mmm, quite. I groaned as soon as I saw his bootlicking of Scott McCloud, the unmarried-marriage-guidance-councilor of comicdom. Here's a hint: if you learn anything from statements of the bloody obvious, then you're in the wrong field to begin with.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by darkvizier (703808)
      I've never read a user interface design article or book that I found insightful. Bickerydyke is right, this article completely glosses over the actual evolution of our current icons and how they changed people's expectations to what they are today. Instead, he poses some contrived gradient scale of reality -> cartoon and posits this as the only relevant factor.

      Who writes these things? All the "UI experts" I've seen seem to take their field in isolation of everything else, which completely defeats th
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by LKM (227954)
        The article doesn't say that realism is the only relevant factor.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stewbacca (1033764)

      That guy is 100% right, but there isn't anything new, let alone newsworthy in that post.

      As long as there continues to be bad design, there can never be enough articles like this one.

  • What this guy says is true; it's also obvious. There are two reasons why we encounter unintuitive icons. The first is an overzealous designer who thinks he is going to be creative by not conforming to conventions; this is where I find Linux GUIs tend to fail miserably. It seems whoever designs their interfaces tend to be going for different as opposed to intuitive. The second is a more pervasive problem: trying to convey an abstract concept.

    Every instance Lukas describes is straightforward and easy to repre

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stewbacca (1033764)

      I think a big reason this blog entry exists is precisely because good design ISN'T obvious, as evidenced by the amount of bad design we see every day.

      I like your reasons for the existence of bad design. The over-zealous guy (I call them my Adobe Employees) that is always trying to make cutting edge stuff in our training that is so fancy that it: a) confuses the learners and b) cripples the computer's cpu cycles. I'd another designer type--the "doesn't matter" guy who just goes out and grabs a random crappy

  • Uncanny! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:48AM (#30860034) Journal

    In other words, it's the Uncanny Valley [slashdot.org] in action.

  • Toward the end of the article, the author indirectly brings up a very good question: Why the heck is the VLC media player icon an orange traffic cone?? Is it because it's kind of the shape of a CRT? Is it cautioning us about the kind of videos we'd watch that came from the Internet? Maybe it's just constantly under construction (even though it's not in beta)? Perhaps it's something more technical and is a reference to the rods and cones that are the light receptors in our eyes. Or maybe I have it all wro
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jeremy Erwin (2054)

      People close to the VLC project, at l'Ecole Centrale Paris collected traffic cones [nanocrew.net]. Why? You might ask why Bertie Wooster collected policeman's helmets. If you want to make it sound less silly, you could probably argue that the videolan client manages the traffic of numerous media streams, but it's a strain.

    • Re:The Traffic Cone (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mini me (132455) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:46PM (#30860748)

      Why the heck is the VLC media player icon an orange traffic cone??

      One day, people from the VIA association (VIA is a students’ network association with many clubs amongst those is VideoLAN.) came back drunk with a cone. They then began a cone collection (which is now quite impressive I must say). Some time later, the VideoLAN project began and they decided to use the cone as their logo.

      http://www.nanocrew.net/2005/06/23/vlc-cone/ [nanocrew.net]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jedidiah (1196)

      Perhaps because you are not likely to mistake it for anything else.

      This is what a trademark is supposed to get you.

      If it's too "intuitive" then it's probably not really a good trademark.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:23PM (#30860484) Homepage

    It's called "written language". Instead we get these asinine rebuses.

  • What "realism"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted AT slashdot DOT org> on Friday January 22, 2010 @03:55PM (#30862728)

    It’s a GUI. On a screen. Not a mechanical button from a 1980s VCR.
    The only thing “realism“ does, is limit you, and create analogies that do not fit.

    Besides: Who came up with the stupid idea of replacing everything with symbols, so that you have to guess what it means? The worst offenders are those that only offer on-hover text, or even no text at all.
    I wish they would make a big icon, linking to “rm -rf /” or “deltree /y c:\”, on their own desktop, then forget what it means, and click it.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

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