How many icons have you seen today?
Tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands?
And you’ve been programmed to understand each one without hesitation because that’s the point of an icon; to be simple and psychologically functional.
You’ll see an icon and get the message, the instruction, the warning and overall the guidance intended by the creator.
They are a visual language that comes as first nature to almost every human being because as babies and children we understand images and icons first, as a stepping stone to learn how to speak, read or write.
Each letter in the alphabet is an icon or a glyph, much like every punctuation mark of symbol you find on a keyboard.
All of these images and icons translate into another form of communciation, maybe even several different forms allowing us to evolve our language and communciation skills for different purposes.
The truth is that the “icon” design may be the most impactful graphic element of our time and whether it’s a road sign, a word or a computer icon; the graphical icon has come a long way and never have they been used as much as they are today.
Xerox created the first computer icons in 1981
And Microsoft introduced them to us all in the 90’s.
But today we hold thousands of them in our pockets, on our desk and in our hands on a daily basis.
An older generation have had to inspect them and learn them as each new icon entered our house but to a new generation some icons don’t actually make sense, in turn defeating the point of an icon.
So should we forget the past and move on a new as our cognitive psychology evolves?
Well if we do then heres several icons that may have had its day in our history of communication.
The Floppy Disk Icon
Visually, the floppy disc is more iconic then both of its predecessors being the CD & USB but a new tech savvy generation don’t even know what a floppy disk is.
When was the last time you “Saved” to an actual floppy disk?
Maybe it’s time to finally remove it from the personal computer altogether.
The obvious replacement is a USB disk but for how long?
With “Cloud Storage” creeping in at every turn, the replacement for the floppy disk could very well just be that, a cloud icon.
What do you think? Is the floppy disk outdated as a save function?
The Phone Icon
Today, your average home telephone is a digital set piece with no resemblance to the old curved handset, and the smart phone is now the most iconic figure of a phone, yet the old handset is still used as a symbolic icon to make calls (even on a smartphone).
The phone itself was a game changer which passed through several generations in its rotary form and hence its symbolism is strong making it unwilling to die but…. When was the last time you actually saw an old rotary phone/handset?
In any case what could replace it? A smart phone which is visually not as symbolic?
Maybe a headset given Skypes influence on communication? Or could it be a pair of google glasses for the future?
Today each cellular device is visually different and likewise those looks will continue to evolve so maybe the first and oldest phone icon is one that’s beaten the grim reaper.
The Paste Icon
I never understood this one!
A clipboard with a sheet of paper never made sense to me as a paste function but if you think about it, the idea of a paste function doesn’t exist without the copy or cut function.
When you cut/copy something it’s stored on a clipboard and then it’s retrieved from the same space hence the paste is represented by a clipboard. It’s not the idea of sticking something down but retrieving it from storage.
A bit longwinded and definitely needs an update.
Although it’s probably the most technologically outdated icon, it’s still the most effective in terms of communication.
Today the hourglass is replaced by many more creative and usually “circular” loading symbols to make an otherwise unpleasant waiting period more entertaining, but maybe “the truth” would be a better icon to use instead.
Represents reel to reel tape however this technology is probably as defunct as the rotary phone.
Definitely time for a change here.
Email was probably the killer of the envelope and instead of making its own iconic mark, it kind of inherited it instead.
Physical mail and email really have nothing to do with one another but psychologically it was the best way to communicate the idea of electronic mail as a revolutionary new tool.
Today email is more difficult to symbolise then ever due to the variety of ways we can send, receive and read them. What’s more the original definition of mail is to “send by post” whereas email has always been completely digital.
So what can we use to symbolise it?
Although it could be seen as overused or even a little corny, the @ symbol is probably the best idea. It’s unique to the form of email and plays an integral part in making it work. Ideally the @ symbol should have been emails icon from the start.
The CD Icon (on its way out)
Although CD’s are almost extinct in every way they were a great bridge not only in technological advancements but a way of life as we know it today.
They took us from analogue to digital in every sense, penetrated both work and entertainment and were the first medium to bring everyday products (other than software) to our home PCs. They opened the doors of free sharing and distribution in a big way and they were the stepping stones for a home media centre.
Today, PC’s don’t even come with a CD drive so maybe the CD icon has officially been marked for death.
How would you replace the above icons?