Home > computers, inventions > Computer Icons Are a Stupid Idea

Computer Icons Are a Stupid Idea

I hate icons. They are a regression to the era of the cave man.

Suppose we want to have a symbol for “email” on the computer so that you know where to click to look at your email. What would we think, starting from scratch, if our designers pondered whether they should use a picture of a mailbox, or of a letter, or maybe a line with a lightning sign, or a little mailman, and brought all those symbols to the CEO for his choice. He’d say, “We have a new invention. It’s called “writing”. It’s new to engineering, but it’s proven very useful in daily life. We form 26 symbols into combinations that represent the words we say. Replace your icon with “EMAIL”. Then there will be no confusion.”

Some people might think icons are quicker to find than words. That would be true for very slow readers, but if you’re that slow a reader, you’re probably not using a computer without help anyway. Supermarket checkout ladies, at least, must find words easier, since that’s what’s put on the cash registers. And us college grads have no trouble with words like “email” or “printer.”

With ordinary people, using an icon involves two steps. One sees the icon, and then translates in one’s mind to a word, and then is the quick step from word to meaning. Reading, we skip a step, getting the word immediately. In addition, memorizing a word is easier than memorizing a picture. It doesn’t require a “photographic memory”, just an ordinary one. So even someone who is illiterate could pretty quickly learn that “P R I N T E R” means “printer” wherever he sees it, instead of having to figure out what the little picture of a machine means.

A lot of the problem is advertising. In effect, companies are trying to make us memorize their logo’s. Microsoft doesn’t want us clicking on the word browser: it wants its trademark to be on the screen— even though that reminds many of us to have our daily “Five Minutes of Hate” for Microsoft rather than helping the company. New companies, or old companies with new products, typically have delusions of grandeur and are also trying to imprint their logo’s on our brains, even though the backfiring there is that because of the obscure icon we forget what the application does and never use it, eventually just deleting the application as useless.

The abolition of icons is particularly important in this, the information age. We might say we are in the “Information Overload Age”. Lots of new things appear, and old things disappear, and we don’t have time to learn new terminology or picture language just to fit the convenience of some lazy software developer. It is important that directions be self evident, no manual needed. Or, at least, that simple commands are obvious. We shouldn’t have to spend any energy trying to remember what some snazzy icon means.

Categories: computers, inventions Tags:
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.