The prime example that makes me believe this is road signs. In Europe it is pretty easy to drive a car in any country and be able to do it correctly, IF you are used to European road signage. Driving a car in USA when used to European signage is difficult. The signs in USA more often have text, but it is not always more understandable than an icon. What does "PED XING" mean, and how much time and energy do you have to dechiffer it while driving? (It took me days to realize that it is probably a contraction of "pedestrian crossing") Another example; it takes much more effort to understand what "SLIDES" might mean than it takes to recognize a pictogram of sliding rocks. When the text is not immediately understandable, you have to recognize it from earlier. This is similar to icons that are not immediately understandable.
My take-away here is that it takes lots of effort to make good descriptive text. Using text instead of icons is not a simple solution for the problem described in the article. It takes effort to communicate clearly anyway :)
Interestingly, I looked up the power icon and found it's an IEC standard, with variations having very specific meaning. A quick search didn't bring up much more useful, although there's an IEC publication "Graphical Symbols for Use on Equipment" which looked promising (although I didn't see anything useful in the preview PDF I found)
Most people are trained monkeys. The assumption that anything is universally obvious will almost always be wrong. Being explicit helps people figure things out rather than needing to randomly attempt and see what happens (many will be too scared to try) or ask someone else for help/training.
Text can be beautiful and doesn't need to hurt the design. This is all part of the challenge.
Every physical electronics device that I've seen and has a power related button and was created within the last 5 years has had the IEC standard button.
At a certain point this is a training issue. I think universal symbols have value. If we can standardize on a few for extremely common concepts, I think it's worthwhile to do so and train those that don't know them.
The radioactivity hazard sign is a good example of this. At one point (prior to 1946), people didn't know what that meant, but people learned because there was value in knowing.
The problem is that once I'm halfway across the road I can't help but read the upside down text in front of me, which is telling me to look in exactly the wrong direction. Clearly I already know which way the traffic is coming from, but it's not helpful to see an arrow pointing left and reading "look right".
The road signs in the US are _well established_ in the US.
Of course they are! I am not trying to say that US signage is unclear. I am trying to illustrate that it does not automatically make things clearer if you use text instead of pictograms. Using text might make things clearer, but "SLIDES" is only clear if you already are familiar with it. Agree? :) (The same thing goes for the text "PED XING", but this example is less important since, as you say, it is usually accompanied by a pictogram)
In my experience, road signs in the US rely much more on text than road signs in Europe. This is why I brought this up as an illustrative example that text is not a magic bullet :)
Microsoft bothered the heck out of me - in an era when screens are getting larger, they drop the text labels off of the taskbar. MS is the last company that should be relying on their users' ability to recognize icons since htey completely change the shortcut icons for the whole MS Office suite and Visual Studio every release.
But having very similar, black and white icons without text in a smartphone app? Really bad decision.
BTW, colors help a lot, even they sometimes conflict with the currently fashionable flat designs. Look at the new Visual Studio -- it looks nice, but developers keep complaining about the lack of colours.
But yes, VS2012 is a worst-case scenario. The TFS source-control file browser makes my eyes want to bleed.
I still hate icons standing on their own, unless they're extremely clear and unambiguous. Even then, they'll be unclear and ambiguous to someone out there.
Just add a label. Even when we've been skeptical that words wouldn't fit in with our design, that they'd clutter or confuse; we've always found a way to make the labels fit in, and our usability has been much improved for it.
People simply don't ask questions anymore—it worked better than we could have hoped.
Funny. I was thinking a non-disappearing modal on a mobile browser would be a fairly cardinal UX mistake. Call me crazy.
Research roughly says that icons with text are best and only text is better than only icons.
It's sometimes not clear that a label plus an icon is actually better than a label alone: I think having the right icon alongside the right label multiplies their effectiveness. The icon is immediately recognizable, while the label is immediately comprehensible.
You get both good learnability and fast recall in one. Best of both worlds.
a)Its needs translation per language and
b)it takes longer to parse/process.
The weather information in iOS7's "Today" notification is an example (http://applenapps.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/ios_7_6_not...). It takes much longer to read the exact weather information than just seeing a weather icon and getting it (IMHO).
In this article's case, it seems he use something that wasn't "iconic" as an icon.
However, I find really amusing when I (as somebody who considers himself a really experienced user and gadget-fan) can't decide what the icons mean on my smartphone, then I start getting suspicious.
If you haven't seen something many times, then icons are harder to parse, simply because you don't know what they mean.
Convention is just an excuse for repeating bad behavior without question.
What is "crave" in this context? This is already an unconventional action for an interface. Am I to assume that you are trying a new variation on "like" / "favorite"? Since it doesn't use a conventional name, does it do something different? If it is just essentially a "like" action, do you have sufficient reason to break from convention? If an affluent white male interface-creating technologist in the bay area like me doesn't immediately know what the action does, maybe the unconventional icon isn't the only deviation from convention that's causing confusion.
I don't understand. Is this not the case?
> "Until you realize that people use this to “bring the elevator up” and to “bring the elevator down”."
I think they're wrong, but now I'm doubting myself!
> "I often go from my top floor to the parking with switches in-between and peeps asking “Going up or down?”"
...everything I thought I knew is a lie.
Example: Scroll bars aren't as obvious as we may think and Apple has successfully changed their orientation.
(In this case: Is it the direction the document should take inside the view or is it, where the user is wanting the viewport to go inside the document?)
We could refer to this as "object view" and "subject view" – and the ambiguity being, whether the interaction is bound to the object or to the subject.
Furthermore there's an ambiguity of time involved: Is it the direction, the elevator is going to take before I enter, or after I entered? (In terms of object vs subject: Am I calling the elevator or am I telling the mechanism where I would want to go?)
You press the button to indicate you need to go up. The problem isn't with the button or the icon, it's with the expectation that the button should assist in helping you navigate the scheduling of the elevator(s). Which it does (to a point).
If you're coincidentally on a floor where someone is getting off and you need to go in the opposite direction than the next person in the elevator's queue, the button will not reset. You're still waiting for the elevator.
Culturally, people just ask instead of knowing/trying to discern this.
Let's see: Given an icon, how to
I pronounce it, spell it, in case
I don't know what it means
look it up
in a dictionary? I can't.
Long ago I decided that a good user
interface should go light on icons.
In the Web site I'm building,
the screens I'm building have no
icons at all. Instead there are
some push buttons with descriptive
words inside them and some links
as words. And each substantive
page has a link "Help" that explains
in detail how to use the page.
Civilization used to have icons,
but then got the Roman
Further, for another "cardinal UX mistake",
a user will never have to run experiments
and explore the user interface (UI)
to discover how to use the Web site.
Further, for another "cardinal UX mistake",
the Web site has no undefined acronyms
or terminology. Each word is used in
its simple dictionary meaning or
otherwise has its special meaning
defined and explained.
E.g., "UX" abbreviates 'user experience'?
When I go live and get some success,
then I'll handle other languages.
Actually, the user interface (UI)
is so simple to use that people who
don't know English should be able to
use the common 'interface experimentation'
(that I don't like and that I hope
my English language users won't have
to use) to see how to use the
But having versions of the site
for languages other than English
should not be too difficult.
I'm writing nice code, but it's
not the most general thing since
Einstein's theory of general
relativity, and with enough
changes for languages, small
screens, etc. might need some
'refactoring'. So be it.
There's the guy whose company did stuff for BFG and the railways talking about some of his work here:
User testing should really be focused more.
For the case of icons and text.I really feel that the situation and context is important. Like for road sign I strongly feel using combination of icon and text really works the best.
That's a pretty user-hostile stance. People have things to do, figuring out which hieroglyph on their camera app does what they want is probably low on the list. I can experiment, yes, but I'd really prefer not to.
but then again, google has shown again and again that they know absolutely nothing about UX or UI
I'm going through this right now - we're translating a native mobile app into a bunch of languages, and let me tell you, getting a dense UI to fit right in multiple languages is an extremely iterative exercise that saps your development velocity like nothing else.
A natural and popular reaction to this is to go "then we'll speak in a universal language - pictographs!", except complex concepts can almost never be expressed properly in iconography, especially iconography that isn't well-established internationally.
I have a strong suspicion that Google's forays into all-iconography UIs is an attempt to reduce the amount of translation (and subsequent tweaking) they need to do.
I would venture to say that more than 60-70% would be English, followed by the romance languages and perhaps German ending up with more than 90% of users among 5-6 languages.
there is no reason to make 90% of your users suffer for a possible inconvenience created by 10% of your users.
As of the last quarterly results, 55% of Google's income is coming outside of the US. China has more than double the number of internet users than the US, and this is increasing rapidly. We also know that Google has a mind to capture the burgeoning Chinese market, so the relevance of this number to them is pretty substantial. India and Japan combined also equals the US's internet user count.
If you look at the top-10 in that list, it accounts for about 1.4 billion internet users. Of those, about 309 million come from English-speaking countries. 462 million if you're including all western European languages (romance languages).
We know that, by sheer economic force, wealthy developed countries occupy the lion's share of Google revenues (the USA represents ~10% of all internet users, but 45% of Google's revenues). In terms of raw users impacted though, that's quite different. Google has no lack of users from non-English countries.
But forget all of this for a second and assume that your numbers are in the ballpark. 60-70% English, moving up to 90% if you include western European "romance" languages (Latin and Germanic languages aren't the same thing, but whatever). Having just finished translating a large app into French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German, I'll say that "romance" languages aren't any easier to translate. French for example tends to run long, and provides huge headaches in any UI that's even remotely space constrained. German tends to mess up line breaks with long compound words, and there are a puzzling number of common verbs in Portuguese and Spanish that run much longer than you would expect them to. All of that requires babysitting and constant iteration to ensure everything fits, reads write, and works right.
And you can see this with Google - they haven't gone all pictographic in their UIs. Instead they've most heavily iconified parts of their UI that are space-constrained. Toolbars are the canonical example. These are the components that most common make people tear their hair out and run screaming into the woods when translating.
I also dislike the way they hide common functions (like delete) until you've selected an item. I can understand their reasoning: they probably thought it would make for a clutter-free interface. It took me a while to get used to the 'select-email-then-make-command-visible' pattern. I still find this very unnatural. It is common in some desktop applications and it works because you might be manipulating the properties of an object in some way. But for an email interface, it's overkill and the wrong pattern (in my opinion). Delete is a such a common email function it should be visible at all times. Most people know they have to select a message before they can delete it, but I found I was looking first to see that the command was available before I made any selection.
Also, I note on the "more" button in GMail, they have a hint that says "select messages to see more actions" which might suggest that other people are hunting for commands not visible in the interface?
(Finally, I can't help but make one more observation - the way that the Gmail compose email box appears in the lower right corner of the browser window - I just find this bizarre and not helpful)
incredibly shocking that within an organization as large and as wealthy such incompetence can rise to such a high level to dictate such a gigantic leap backwards and no one is around to laugh at the imbecilic change.
Initially, you see the larger navigation bar which gives you clear definition to where everything is; however, once you've become familiar with the site, you have the option to shrink the bar down to just the essential icons.
The problem is we're not sure what icons users 'get', which is why there was so much argument when the Windows 'Start' button removed the wording (and in Window 8's case, the button). If you didn't recognize the icon, the wording re-enforced it. But how many non-techie's immediately understand three circles, 2 lines, in the shape of > means 'Share Online'? How many even get B means 'Bold'?
This is an issue I've started to research since becoming an instructor for 'Intro to Computers'. What are some of the things people really need to learn to use the computer (instead of the MS Office stereotypical course). As time moves forward (and as UX designers pick standards), I can make the course more 'ambiguous', so any OS/Browser/Program and be used by the student in no time.
On a related note a while ago we were discussing this new generation of kids will probably never come across a floppy disk, yet it's almost a UI convention to use the floppy icon for the Save function.
It's a fact that it is easier and faster to comprehend images than words. I think the only situation this isn't true is when you are icons aren't clear. You can't use icons for obscure things or things that don't have an established universal recognition for exactly the reason this article describes. That's why everyone always recognizes a picture of an old school telephone versus a smart phone as an icon in front of something like a phone number.
I think the "Cardinal" UX mistake made here was that, not using an icon over text.
That's not at all a fact. It might be faster to recognize images than words (though I think for people that are more than marginally literate, its mostly equivalent for familiar words, because they are recognized as images.)
> I think the only situation this isn't true is when you are icons aren't clear.
Icons are almost never as clear as words, because they are essentially words written in an ad hoc, application specific, logographic script.
The exception is when icons with well-established meanings outside of the specific application are used in a context which makes clear that they are being used in their well-established sense, in which case they become words in familiar logographic script. But except for icons that have well-established action meanings in the context of computer UIs, that's usually not the case in application UIs, even with familiar symbols originating in non-computer-UI domains. There, familiar symbols are used in senses which are inspired by their common usage in other domains, but not identical to them, which still requires both recognizing the symbol and inferring the analogy being used.
> That's not at all a fact. It might be faster to recognize images than words
There is one point that almost all of these icons vs. text discussions omit. And that is an additional phrase at the end of the sentence:
"It is faster to recognize images than words, __after you have learned what the image means__".
1) no idea (share photo?)
2) take panorama
3) take video
4) take photo
I find these Google Apps admin buttons to be even more confusing: http://i.imgur.com/SVX34h2.png
Of course, I could always click on it to tell. Which is probably okay, unless your mystery-icon was something I cannot undo.
On a more abstract level, the photo sphere icon makes no less sense than the panorama one does. You just know what the latter is because it's more well known.
I'd make an exception, however, for some extremely common icons, such as the B, I, and X icons for "bold", "italic", and "close".
Seriously, a standard (?) icon in the corner to show all the text labels and list the gestures temporarily should be a standard feature on touch devices that often heavily rely on gestures and textless icons.
This is something Windows Phone excels at, actually. Any program that uses icons will put them along the bottom bar. If you open up the three-dot Menu? The bottom bar slides up to reveal
(1) text labels for the icons and
(2) additional less-frequently-used actions that have a full text name instead of an icon.
This is fantastic because it means you have one interaction you use to say "I can't see where click to do X". Either you find the option in (2) or you discover that the action was already staring you in the face in (1).