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December 10, 2012 5:56 AM   Subscribe

The Floppy Disk means Save, and 14 other old people Icons that don't make sense anymore
posted by infini (256 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah the floppy disc is one that's brought up a lot, but plenty of people still use actual paper calendars and actual manilla folders and actual telephones and actual envelopes, so it's not like these "don't make sense".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:59 AM on December 10, 2012 [28 favorites]


Nobody tell this guy about the word "iconic".
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:00 AM on December 10, 2012 [74 favorites]


Nobody tell Pope Guilty about the word guy.
posted by zoo at 6:03 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, short of a doctor's office or the DMV when are we coming in contact with clipboards?

Whenever I want to work on a small number of sheets of paper in a mobile fashion? Like drawing up plans for a project while watching TV? Working on the Gravity Falls code before going to sleep?

Ugh and I couldn't even read past the bookmarks. I can't tell if it's a forced joke or a super-priviledged, trendy person writing but either way, seriously annoying.
posted by DU at 6:04 AM on December 10, 2012 [30 favorites]


Really, notebooks, calendars, envelopes, manila folders or bookmarks now "don't make sense to people anymore"? I'd rather say someone needs to get out of his consultant and/or IT job and into contact with other "normal" working people...
posted by SAnderka at 6:04 AM on December 10, 2012 [33 favorites]


So what will we replace the floppy disc icon with? Anyone? Bueller? A cloud?
posted by panaceanot at 6:05 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can believe there are people who don't have manila folders or envelopes in their house, but who doesn't have a wrench? What contemporary tech is supposed to have replaced it?
posted by escabeche at 6:06 AM on December 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


Want to indicate Settings or Setup to a twenty something? Show them a tool they've never used in their lives.

I think they'll have seen a screwdriver or wrench in their young and sheltered life and know that these are tools.

In other news, we get it, skeumorphism bad! Apple bad! They should do something about that if they want to make billions of dollars a minute year after year selling user interfaces to people.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:08 AM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


"So you see... this cartoonish minimalistic representation of condensed water vapour represents your parents contact details as stored on a corporations servers in North Carolina... clear?"
posted by panaceanot at 6:09 AM on December 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


I couldn't even read past the bookmarks. I can't tell if it's a forced joke or a super-priviledged, trendy person writing but either way, seriously annoying.

I'm thinking this is a young techie who objects to anything from previous generations having any influence on his world. The kind of geek who rejects anything not of his own experience as being "old and broken".
posted by Thorzdad at 6:09 AM on December 10, 2012 [26 favorites]


From the author's bio on the page 'I am a failed stand-up comic'.

Anyway, envelopes.... What is the deal with those?
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:09 AM on December 10, 2012 [74 favorites]


Some of these are weird, but I don't agree with the generational angle the author is taking on this piece.
Wrenches and Gears - Setup/Settings

Want to indicate Settings or Setup to a twenty something? Show them a tool they've never used in their lives.

My living room is currently full of bicycle guts, wrenches, bolts, and screw drivers. This weekend I completely disassembled an old rusted bicycle and spent hours shopping for replacement parts to fix it up. So, uh, yeah, us twenty-something's know what tools are.
Photography

No one under 30 has seen a Polaroid in years but we keep using them for icons. Instagram sold for $1B with an icon whose subtlety was lost on its target audience. "Shake it like a Polaroid picture."
Anyone who is hipster enough to use Instagram also has that one friend who bought a Polaroid camera and film on eBay and went around to every party for a year using it as a cheap excuse to snap photos of pretty ladies.
posted by deathpanels at 6:10 AM on December 10, 2012 [21 favorites]


He must going through a mid life thing.
posted by redindiaink at 6:12 AM on December 10, 2012


Glad to know that there are people out there that don't know what wrenches are and screwdrivers... Also, I know the author is neither a birdwatcher nor was ever a sadistic 6 year old given their lack of understanding of binoculars and magnifying glasses.

The author had me up until that point. I could say, "Sure - in 10 - 15 years, manila folders and calendars are somewhat antiquated and are being replaced by electronic counterparts." But tools and hobbyist equipment just make me weep for the author's ability to navigate outside their comfort zone.

Also, they haven't had little kids yet. Every damn kids toy requires batteries and a Philips head screwdriver to put them in. There are no more vital pieces of equipment parents' Christmas repertoires than Philips head screwdrivers and a boxes of D, AA, and AAA batteries.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:13 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is deep and deserves better. Computers are so useful they caused a metaphor singularity over 20 years ago. The question coming up isn't just about icons but what's the best way to think about what we're doing?
posted by wobh at 6:13 AM on December 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


Some of this is hairsplitting. For example, the classic microphone shape used for the icon is still very much in use.

What's changed is that microphones are ubiquitous now and take many shapes. And the problem is that the microphone's most ubiquitous form is one of no visible shape whatsoever: it is embedded under the housing of your phone, laptop, or computer monitor, it's only physical evidence being a small pinhole or slit.
posted by ardgedee at 6:13 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Note that the manila folder was not exactly a universal symbol in the first place (note the dearth of translations in the wiki entry for instance).
posted by elgilito at 6:14 AM on December 10, 2012


Regardless of the relevance of the actual items that these icons represent, they are still needed as metaphors. Our puny human brains just can't easily distinguish between four hundred individually labeled or colored squares.

Yet
posted by Winnemac at 6:14 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Instead of a floppy disk icon for "save", maybe today's conservative youth would do better with a picture of Jesus on the cross ("Jesus Saves").
posted by briank at 6:14 AM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's not just icons. How often do we hear people say "dial" or, for that matter, "floppy"?
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:16 AM on December 10, 2012


Lassie microphone? That is a phrase I am not familiar with.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:16 AM on December 10, 2012


I reckon we stick with the floppy disc icon over a piece of toast branded with jesus personally.
posted by panaceanot at 6:18 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't trust anyone who isn't using keyboard shortcuts anyway.
posted by lrobertjones at 6:18 AM on December 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


They should do something about that if they want to make billions of dollars a minute year after year selling user interfaces to people.
posted by infini at 6:20 AM on December 10, 2012


That's what we call backward compatibility, kid. Nobody but failed standups have thought about how strange it is to use a floppy to mean save, as anybody who actually uses computers in their day to day life have long ago learned to associate the icon itself with the action, without having to go through the analogy chain icon > floppy disk > save.

That's how language works, oddly enough.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:21 AM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Pretty stupid article (though some people here are projecting jusssssssssssst a bit) but I did learn one thing: never really thought about why radio buttons are called that before, now I know. LSNED.
posted by kmz at 6:21 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


So what will we replace the floppy disc icon with?

An image of an SD card would work pretty well, but then anyone who owned one might potentially think they were saving to their card, instead of the hard disk.

Floppies might actually be better; because they're obsolete, nobody will ever get confused and think they're putting files on a floppy disk.
posted by Malor at 6:22 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't really see why the icons stopped making sense when their real world analog went away. A kid only has to learn that the floppy disk icon means save once when they first use a computer and then they know it. Who cares if real floppy disks don't exist anymore if everyone understands the icon?
posted by octothorpe at 6:22 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


"OK - I want all my icons to be computers."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:25 AM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


This article was making the UX blog rounds back in May. I'm pretty sure it was considered stupid all around, although it is a good thing to think about.
posted by melt away at 6:26 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


14 other old people Icons that don't make sense anymore.

I work with two guys who started their IT careers in the mid-60s (one at Bell Labs), and who are both still very sharp.

I'm currently taking an information design class from a 50-something who consistently has useful insights into icon / graphic use and design.

My 60-something folks are often intimidated by new tech that might be useful to them because so much of the related discussion happens in the tone used here.

Casual IT / design ageism is hugely counterproductive and needs to stop.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [45 favorites]


I would suggest the save icon could be a piggy bank, but I'm sure the youth are transferring their directly-deposited allowances online now.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:31 AM on December 10, 2012


Maybe they could all just be a series of ones and zeros in different combinations?

No wait, that would be physically inaccurate. Let's just put the electrical schematics ... no wait, those are abstractions too. I mean, resistors aren't actually little jagged squiggly lines... what's the deal with that?
posted by mrgoat at 6:31 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


'I am a failed stand-up comic'.


Perhaps he had better learn how to use a wrench.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:33 AM on December 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


So what will we replace the floppy disc icon with?

Red dot would work, since it's already used on tape recorders and other devices. And it might be better, since these days undo/redo function as a kind of timeline rewind/forward for documents and "auto-saving" is nearly constant too.

And this led me to wonder where the play, record, and fast forward symbols came from. I found this forum archive from Straight Dope, which led to this AskMe, which says they were codified as ISO standards in 1973, but did not know the exact origin.
posted by FJT at 6:33 AM on December 10, 2012


Whiny as it is, I think the point is that these things *will* be obsolete at some point. Let's face it, a lot of paper stuff is going to go away. I don't think the author is arguing for topical replacements, necessarily; I think this is supposed to be that witty observational humor I've been hearing so much about.
posted by Mooseli at 6:34 AM on December 10, 2012


I did just recently find myself describing the awesomeness of going to the school office to mimeograph worksheets for classes in elementary school. Warm, sweet smelling mimeographs with smeary purple ink.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:35 AM on December 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


I used to wonder what "radio buttons" were in GUI context.
To me, the ones like what's shown in the article evoke "multiple choice" answers, and when you click on them, it's pretty easy to see that only one stays marked at a time.
The idea that one of a set is the exclusive option works, even if you don't know they're "radio buttons".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:35 AM on December 10, 2012


I'm thinking this is a young techie who objects to anything from previous generations having any influence on his world.

...

Casual IT / design ageism is hugely counterproductive and needs to stop.


This is Scott Hanselman; he's no spring chicken himself. When he calls something an old person icon, he's making fun of himself; he is very much in the demographic for which the metaphors make sense.

To me, devising an appropriate set of icons is an interesting problem. Many icons represent bits being moved somewhere. The icons I see in this browser window use a metaphor in which I as the user am moving around the network. But it's not like all your icons can be arrows; what varies from operation to operation is not the "arrow"-ness- the fact of bits or metaphorical entities moving or communicating- but what lies at either end of that arrow.

But abstractions make it hard to make icons that represent what lies at the ends of the arrows, as well. In the specific case of storage, what lies at the receiving end of that arrow is abstracted away by your operating system. Because of the beauty of filesystems, the program doing the saving does not have to know anything about what device is actually going to store the bits.
posted by Jpfed at 6:36 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And what's the deal with airline food?
posted by slogger at 6:38 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's just take one example - the word "file," as applied to computers (As an aside, my office is still full of paper file folders - I'm not a 20-something, but I have 20-somethings working with and for me, so I'm corrupting at least one more generation behind me).

OK, then. Find another word to describe the linguistic construct represented by the term "file." You can use Google if you like. I'll wait.

Words are symbols. They inherit value from older concepts. The roots of most of them are far more archaic than these icons.

In other news, men's coats button a certain way so we can get to swords easier, or so I've been told.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:38 AM on December 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


Creating an appropriate icon for 'find' is a real challenge, especially if your constraint is 16x16 pixels, black and white only.
When I worked on Acrobat 1.0, where the magnifying glass was reserved for zoom-in/zoom-out, we had a couple other ideas on the table. I favored something like the US yellow pages icon, but out of fear of lawsuit we ended up with binoculars, which are a real devil to render in 16x16. I've always hated them.
posted by plinth at 6:39 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The current de facto standard is better than the one Babbage devised for his Difference Engine which were scenes from the Georgian Era. How the fuck are you supposed to know that a horse carriage racing through the streets on a chilly Autumn afternoon means resetting the damn thing? At least we had The Mary Shelley to save* our asses in those really hairy situations.

* Ducreux' self-portrait. Yeah, never got that one either.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:40 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Dumb. The worst part about thinking like this is that it might cause some idiotic-but-well-meaning UX designer to change all the icons away from the standard ones because they're "old".

It doesn't matter that (virtually) nobody uses floppy disks anymore; we all know that the floppy disk means save and that's that. It once had a more direct meaning, which was helpful when computers were new and unfamiliar and everyone was figuring them out, but that's not the case anymore. It might as well be an abstract symbol now, but it's a well-understood symbol and anyone who thinks it ought to be changed needs to be beaten with a well-worn copy of DOS For Dummies.

In other news, the low-oil light on my car is shaped like a little oil can, which isn't something that I own or have ever used (at least not in connection with a car) and isn't something that you'd use to lubricate a modern car anyway ... and when's the last time anyone saw a gas pump that looked like this? Everyone knows that modern pumps have the hose on the front, and there should probably be a big LCD display on there.

But as long as everyone understands what the icons mean, there's nothing to be gained — and much to be lost — by changing them unnecessarily.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:42 AM on December 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I have trouble imagining a world where screwdrivers are obsolete and unknown, but that might just be my limited vision. We also live in a world where the verbal metaphors we use often reference entirely obsolete technology, careers, or modes of living without anyone losing their minds because I said "broken record" and they had no idea what a record was.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:42 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I didn't know you could record voicemail on 110 photo film. Neat!

This was pretty weak sauce.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:43 AM on December 10, 2012


A list made by someone who has never worked in an actual office, I think.
posted by OmieWise at 6:44 AM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


The term file comes from the word for thread - collections of documents were arranged in order by being strung upon a line or wire. It's old enough to have inspired military metaphors - a file is a collection of troops arranged in a line across the ranks. (Hence single-file means a file only one soldier wide).

So the technical metaphor was broken from the start - a file isn't a document, a document is a document. Yet we know pretty much what a file is when talking about computers in the abstract - a "thing" that is produced by the software that contains data. In the literal, it gets really, really, complicated in a hurry, which is why computers are best served with a heaping helping of metaphor.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:49 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hanselman is a great writer about coding. I think you can probably infer the problem from that statement.
posted by yerfatma at 6:50 AM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm just fascinated that he imagines that no one has used a landline and can recognise the handset. It looks like pretty much every phone I have ever seen in any office, just a little bit more rounded.
posted by jeather at 6:50 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


My TV has rabbit ears.

:(
posted by mazola at 6:51 AM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Given that auto-save is a fairly normal feature of software these days, is there really any need for a save function at all?
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:52 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps there's a parallel to be drawn with toddlers' toys or cartoon characters, which often feature yesteryear's technology. Why are Dora the Explorer's Blue train or Thomas the Train steam locomotives for instance? And kids still get rotary phones...
posted by elgilito at 6:52 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


For some reason, the first thing that lept to mind is the classic Staunton chess set (possibly designed by Cook and/or Jaques) which is an icon for a metaphor (or simile) that, in turn, has been used for a metaphor in sermons, lectures, and fiction. Curse you Charles Saunders Pierce, it's icons all the way down!
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:54 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Find another word to describe the linguistic construct represented by the term "file." You can use Google if you like. I'll wait.

Document? Picture? Sound recording? I agree that the term "file" is useful, but it tends to be overused. Word processors product "documents," graphics programs and digital cameras produce "pictures" (in various formats), etc. That these are all cases of a general concept called a "file" is eventually important, but it's not necessary to know in order to operate the thing.

I don't know if they've kept with it, but Apple's documentation (which was really, really good back in the day) was pretty careful about avoiding "file" as a noun in favor of other terms that more accurately described the information being stored. At the level most casual users operate at, that's an improvement.

My suspicion is that Apple's avoidance of the general term "file" for an abstract, logical bag-of-bits might have been in part a self-conscious realization that they made the problem significantly worse by creating the File menu.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:54 AM on December 10, 2012


We're constantly referencing things that no longer exist. In some cases, we're not even aware that they don't exist.

Take that iconic sardine can image, with the key and the can half-open.

But keys to open sardine cans no longer exist. Its all pull-tabs now.
posted by vacapinta at 6:55 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Note that the manila folder was not exactly a universal symbol in the first place (note the dearth of translations in the wiki entry for instance).

The lack of translations in Wikipedia for a file folder doesn't mean non-English or German speakers are aware of the concept. File folders are in offices everywhere on the planet. The reason that there aren't articles on the file folder in Spanish, Korean, Japanese or other languages is no one has gotten around to writing it.
posted by birdherder at 6:55 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one under 30 has seen a Polaroid in years but we keep using them for icons. Instagram sold for $1B with an icon whose subtlety was lost on its target audience. "Shake it like a Polaroid picture."

I like that he proves how much no one knows what a Polaroid is by quoting a line from the most popular song of the decade recently that requires its listeners to know what a Polaroid is.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:56 AM on December 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


So the technical metaphor was broken from the start - a file isn't a document, a document is a document.

I actually hadn't thought of that until now. My life involves a mixture of both real and computer files and when I say "file" in the sense of a real life file, I almost certainly mean something that I would call a folder on a computer. It's a literal folder full of pieces of paper, which I would individually call a file on a computer, but in real life I just call pieces of paper.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:56 AM on December 10, 2012


Given that auto-save is a fairly normal feature of software these days, is there really any need for a save function at all?

"Saving" seems to be an entirely deprecated metaphor in iOS, Android, and Win8 (and Apple's working OSX in that direction), the way things are going this "problem" may just solve itself.
posted by ConstantineXVI at 6:57 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Superficial, lazy, and ill-informed, or at least under-researched.

The problem is deep and deserves better. Computers . . . caused a metaphor singularity over 20 years ago. -- posted by wobh

Exactly. Entities are developing faster that we can name them.

A similar thing happened a century ago. Consider 'drive' as a verb for operating an automobile or 'teamster' for a professional truck driver.

For insightful and oldskool (about icon design), see William Horton.
For humorous and oldskool (on busted metaphors), see George Carlin.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:59 AM on December 10, 2012


Ignoring everything else for a second, based on the description I'm just amazed that this isn't a buzzfeed link.

Also, you see clipboards pretty often in the NFL.
posted by inigo2 at 7:00 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sadly, my suggestion of using the Time Machine from George Pal's movie as the icon for "undo" never caught on.
posted by Zed at 7:02 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


One of my in-laws (who incidentally works at a doctor's office) thinks the floppy disc icon is only for saving to floppy discs. Since she doesn't have a floppy disc drive on her machine, she never clicks the icon.
posted by recess at 7:06 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Herodios: But hasn't that always been the case? Language is littered with examples of old words getting applied to new or newly-found (at least by the eyes of that linguistic group) phenomena for lack of a better term. You can't do much in biology without running smack into a term that was a metaphor that seemed a good idea at the time, and I still see "planetary nebula" hit Astronomy Picture of the Day on a regular basis. Even the term "planet," is a carryover from Greek theory.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:06 AM on December 10, 2012


I had a 50-something coworker explain to me not too long ago that she saved a document by clicking on "the picture of the TV screen."
posted by Lucinda at 7:09 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should we change the symbols used for restrooms because they don't have toilets on them? Changing icons is stupid. It doesn't matter if kids have today never seen a floppy disk: it matters if the floppy disk icon is associated with saving a file.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:09 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


So what will we replace the floppy disc icon with? Anyone? Bueller? A cloud?

We replace the need for it. "Save" as a discrete operation is a hideous throwback to days of memory and storage constraints that simply don't exist any more. When was the last time you saw a discrete "save" command on an iOS app, for instance?

Apple is already trying to do this with the latest versions of Mac OS. They're doing it ineptly and badly, but they're definitely going in the right direction.
posted by fightorflight at 7:13 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ooh, yeah. I've recently been criticizing Apple a lot for failing to innovate, but they're definitely doing good work by killing the 'Save' metaphor.

The implementations have sucked thus far, but it's good that they're trying.
posted by schmod at 7:15 AM on December 10, 2012


I'm 64, and I just came here to say that the idiot that wrote that piece was defined as an asshole in the title, there wasn't much point in reading anything else he wrote... (but I did, and it just confirmed that he was an asshole).
posted by HuronBob at 7:15 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, we use stylized icons to represent something, even when their original function has either taken a different form, or disappeared all together. For instance, a barber's pole had a serious functional purpose, but now functions as a trade symbol. I need to look at the evolution of the word "type" from typesetting to simply hitting keys to make words appear on the screen.

The "needle scratch" sound effect is widely used, even in shows geared to kids who may barely remember CDs, much less records. It now represents "abrupt interruption."

Plate armor appears in crests and symbols (such as military symbols), even for units of air forces (clearly well past plate armor's common use). For that matter, the slide rule (which is also somewhat of a ceremonial object of geeks) appears in these as well.

My point? Things become standard "symbols," even as the referenced technology fades from everyday use.

I'd rather say someone needs to get out of his consultant and/or IT job and into contact with other "normal" working people...

This, too, is a very good point, I'm in an IT consulting company. We are as close to a paperless office as I think we get. We use Outlook scheduling to the degree that I think I'd get in trouble if I decided to use a paper calendar as my primary tool. Sending a bit of info in e-mail is second nature to us, including documentation action items and commitments.

Every so often, when I deal with a small local shop (or even my daughter's school), I have to dial it back a bit: most of the world is not as type A as we are (and the flaw is on our side).
posted by MrGuilt at 7:17 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I still use rabbit ears - or, more precisely, with the advent of digital TV broadcasting, my rabbit ears actually WORK for the first time in my life.
posted by mr vino at 7:18 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would suggest the save icon could be a piggy bank

Slow down, there, Hoss.

/Save/ (your money) and /save/ (your work) are two perhaps subtly different meanings of /save/. Three, if you take the 'Jesus saves' suggestion above on board as well.

Those of us who do this kind of work for a living have to think things through quite a bit more carefully than our author has here.

For a real hall of mirrors, consider the localization implications of your choices.

I ran into that some years ago with an outfit that wanted to place a huge animated icon of a running figure in the middle of an application UI to indicate that a process was running.

Problem 1: /Run/ (a race) and /run/ (a program) are not homophones in all languages, so the pun falls apart.

Problem 2: Some people -- some whole cultures -- would not appreciate being reduced to watching a cartoon of a little homunculus in his underwear (shorts and tanktop with a number on it) pumping his limbs back and forth in space ('running, but with no background) for five minutes every time they 'run' a process.

Fault-finding is pretty easy compared to creating something with the right balance of simplicity and clarity for a given audience in a given context. Sometimes doing no harm means perpetuating the antiquated and illogical.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:20 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one under 30 has seen a Polaroid in years but we keep using them for icons.

So those digital cameras that print out the picture right out of the camera like a Polaroid have not been seen by anyone under 30?

Does changing the interface to be up with the times really help with confusion? In this version of the software it's a floppy disc, in the next it's a SSD, in the next it's a cloud, in the next it isn't even there and bugger you if autosave screws you by not working properly.
posted by juiceCake at 7:20 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Magnifying Glass and Binoculars

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!


OK, this has actually bothered me too - does that make me a gigantic nerd?
posted by Artw at 7:21 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Herodios: But hasn't that always been the case?

Yes.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:21 AM on December 10, 2012


I'm wondering how much of this is based on a possibly wrong theory that semiotic communication should be at the iconic level where they still resemble the thing described, and not the symbolic level where those relations are reduced or eliminated.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:22 AM on December 10, 2012


Are younger people confused when they see the hashtag sign on a phone?
posted by drezdn at 7:25 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I personally am in favor of adding little pronunciation mnemonics to the common icons. For example, the floppy disk icon for saving should go with a stylized little picture of a shaver, because to shave and to save rhyme. That way you can remember the icon from its meaning (floppies were used for saving things) or the pronunciation (the shave-save rhyme). Even if I do say so myself, I think this is a pretty radical idea.
posted by tykky at 7:26 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


We replace the need for it. "Save" as a discrete operation is a hideous throwback to days of memory and storage constraints that simply don't exist any more. When was the last time you saw a discrete "save" command on an iOS app, for instance?

Don't most people use Save the way I do, when I'm at work and the lights flicker because a power outage may be imminent, and I don't want to lose any of my last 2 hours of work?

Also, it makes me feel happy to hit save. Click icon. Work safe! Ah.

Of course, I'm old and all.
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I did just recently find myself describing the awesomeness of going to the school office to mimeograph worksheets for classes in elementary school. Warm, sweet smelling mimeographs with smeary purple ink.

Fucking teacher's pet.
posted by NoMich at 7:26 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know what else are overused and outdated? Words.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


In other news, men's coats button a certain way so we can get to swords easier, or so I've been told.

[NOT HIGHLANDER-IST]?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:28 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Skeumorphapalooza! Funny I was just talking about icons in web design with my colleagues. My position is that they are for designers more than users. Possible exception to sites with multi-lingual audiences, but those sites should really offer content in multiple languages.

Icons in the OS or software may make slightly more sense in some cases... but I think they are, in the end, unnecessary artifacts that are becoming increasingly confusing as some of their referents are relegated to the Smithsonian.
posted by Mister_A at 7:29 AM on December 10, 2012


Let's face it, a lot of paper stuff is going to go away.

Um, maybe? Eventually? Not anywhere as soon as tech-immersed people like to think, because not all that many people have access to (and good mastery of) electronic tools. I work at a university, full of smart, mostly tech-immersed people, and, while some of my more focused and intimate committees are pretty much paperless (although I like to print out a paper copy of the agenda when I am Chair, since jotting notes with a pen is usually faster and less disruptive than altering a .pdf or .doc), larger committees that meet less often work in paper because a) not everyone is bringing their devices with them, b) not everyone has downloaded the critical documents or is willing to link to the repository to get them, c) the report was only finished 15 minutes before the meeting, and the finisher had the secretary photocopy them rather than create a .pdf and upload, d) half of the administrators are just reading their email during the meeting anyway, and e) paper is, in some ways, more controllable and less distracting. Less tech-focused people amplify these problems. Assuming we don't hit some major glitch in tech development, we might substantially do away with paper in 2-3 more generations.

Anyway, why is no one all angry about "Wednesday" and "Thursday," when no one has worshiped the Norse gods in a cultural way for nearly 1000 years? Not to mention why we still worship the deified Octavian with our idolatrous "August."
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:31 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also:

I'll "cc" you on that email. Last time I made a carbon copy I was using a mimeograph to do it.

Really? Because making a carbon copy on a mimeograph would be a fairly amazing hack. Kind of like biking to work in your car....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:33 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


We replace the need for it

Yeah, if I do any document work, it's using Google DocsDrive and there's no save button at all.
posted by octothorpe at 7:35 AM on December 10, 2012


I will say that iconic/non-verbal signifiers can be useful on smartphone sites and apps, where they can suggest an action (swipe etc) as well as serve as a label for content. I still think it's hard to beat a big shiny button with a clear label on it, but smartphone screens don't give that much real estate, so icons can serve a role if you really MUST pack that much stuff onto the screen.
posted by Mister_A at 7:36 AM on December 10, 2012


cc has been retronymed (not really the precisely correct word here but go with it!) to 'courtesy copy' in some circles.
posted by Mister_A at 7:37 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, there are a few Astaru around.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:38 AM on December 10, 2012


Let's face it, a lot of paper stuff is going to go away.

My father registered a business in 1984 called NMP - No More Paper - I believe he was doing something with very large memory disks out in Australia some where. Later on, I recall the SOHO paperless office concepts all the big co's like HP were pushing tremendously.

Is this something we're still waiting for?

Paper (or papyrus even) has been around for eons and millenia from Egypt all the way to China. Odd how its stayed put even as other things have dissapeared in our own short lifetimes.
posted by infini at 7:40 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Paper is also the superior archival format. Well, maybe stone tablets are better. But seriously, try finding all the hardware and software you will need to open your .pdf files 20 years from now.
posted by thelonius at 7:42 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope the disk button sticks around for a while. My office uses OneNote (of all things) to organize some stuff, and its autosave feature has been a complete disaster. Manual saving allows you to revert to the last saved copy, store incremental backups, make experimental changes, etc.

This article reminds me of that yearly list of things that college freshmen don't understand. It assumes that young people lack even a cursory knowledge of history. I'm sure they've seen an old style telephone handset in a movie, at least. Its not like most movies feature 40 minutes of people checking facebook.
posted by a dangerous ruin at 7:42 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


On a related note, I almost never know what day of the week it is what with them being named after pagan gods noone has actively worshipped in the past oh, one thousand years.

I propose to rename Tuesday to "I'm almost fucking caught up with my inbox after the weekend-day."
posted by lydhre at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Someone needs to do a Rear Window parody with the guy obsessively texting his suspicions about his neighbors to facebook or twitter.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:46 AM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]



So what will we replace the floppy disc icon with?

Red dot would work, since it's already used on tape recorders and other devices.


A red dot would be too small to be seen and what's a tape recorder?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:46 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Birdherder: File folders are in offices everywhere on the planet.
File folders yes, but not the "manila" type shown in computer icons, the beige one with tabs. I've worked in an office for decades, I have used many other types of folders (usually brightly coloured without tabs) and the manila type is not even in the office supplies catalogue we're using. In any case it does not have the same iconic status that it has in the US. Office cultures are highly cultural in fact. Amusingly, I read the term "manila folder" so many times in American novels that I had more or less figured out what it was but only recently I did look it up on Google to see what it actually looked like (thanks to this FPP)... I guess that if someone polled non-US computer users about the "folder" icon there would be surprising results! Still, this reinforces the idea that the link between an icon and the function it represents does not have to be very strong to be efficient.
posted by elgilito at 7:47 AM on December 10, 2012


So what will we replace the floppy disc icon with?
*Raises Hand*

OOH! OOH! How about a little button with the word SAVE on it?
posted by Mister_A at 7:53 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's face it, a lot of paper stuff is going to go away.

IT saying I learned in college (admittedly twenty years ago):

A paperless office is as useful as a paperless bathroom.

posted by MrGuilt at 7:54 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a car radio that let you press more than one button at a time. It had five station-preset buttons but you could press adjacent buttons at the same time to access four more presets.
posted by rocket88 at 7:55 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


OOH! OOH! How about a little button with the word SAVE on it?

What should it say in languages other than English? If the word 'save' is larger the space allocated, then what should designers do, reduced the size of the word? So you're talking about custom designed interfaces and after all that's done and billed, what has been accomplished? A new icon to introduce misunderstands instead of previously universally understood one.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:56 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with "save"ing files? :(
posted by kmz at 7:58 AM on December 10, 2012


Sometimes people who want all this change for change's sake -- "What's the point of all these icons that everyone recognises?" -- tire me. I have no particular love for the diskette as save or any of the other icons he complained about, but it's recognisable and it doesn't look like any other icon, and that's all people need.


Someone needs to do a Rear Window parody with the guy obsessively texting his suspicions about his neighbors to facebook or twitter.

I would watch this movie.
posted by jeather at 7:59 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well BB obviously this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. However, it is just as easy for a non–English-speaking or ESL user to learn what 'save' means as it is to figure out what the floppy icon (or its replacement) stands for. Even more so if this is a piece of software that is used every day. English has become the western hemisphere tech lingua franca, and it's not a bad thing to keep that in mind and take advantage of it.

Of course it all depends on the specifics of the project, but I wouldn't rule out 'save' in favor of an icon out of hand.
posted by Mister_A at 8:14 AM on December 10, 2012


Maybe a slight derail, but ... I read the Wiki link at: For instance, a barber's pole had a serious functional purpose and I'm not seeing that the original pole was actually functional.
The origin of the red and white barber pole is associated with the service of bloodletting and was historically a representation of bloody bandages wrapped around a pole. ... The original pole had a brass wash basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin that received the blood). The pole itself represents the staff that the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow.
posted by achrise at 8:19 AM on December 10, 2012


Mister_A: I'll make the argument that a lot of these symbols dating back to the 80s have become something of a visual lingua franca, even if the relationship between function and physical artifact is now broken.

Ultimately I think the transition from icon to symbol (the barber pole is a good example) is both a good thing as those technologies become embedded in everyday life, and one that's unavoidable.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2012


Well BB obviously this is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

So you want to up the budget for the design and testing department, which cuts into the yearly bonuses. You want a beach house or a new icon?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:25 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the letter A is supposed to be the head of an ox, lol OLD
posted by Tom-B at 8:28 AM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I almost never know what day of the week it is what with them being named after pagan gods noone has actively worshipped in the past oh, one thousand years.

why is no one all angry about "Wednesday" and "Thursday," when no one has worshiped the Norse gods in a cultural way for nearly 1000 years? Not to mention why we still worship the deified Octavian with our idolatrous "August."



This problem was solved during the French Revolution.

The French Republican Calendar . . . was used (and to a greater or lesser extent, imposed) by the French government from 1793 to 1805.

Twelve months of 30 days each
Starting at the Southward Equinox and given new names based on nature: Vendémiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire, Nivôse, Pluviôse, Ventôse, Germinal, Floréal, Prairial, Messidor, Thermidor, and Fructidor.

Satirized in Britain as: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy, Slippy, Drippy, Nippy, Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Wheaty, Heaty, and Sweety.

Three weeks of ten days each
The month is divided into three décades or 'weeks' of ten days each.

The days of the week were imaginitively named primidi, duodi, tridi, etc.

Each day was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes, and each decimal minute into 100 decimal seconds.





It did not catch on.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:28 AM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I dislike the lack of a discrete "save" icon. I'm an OSX user, and have run into this in a few apps - it throws my whole workflow off. Many times I am opening a document, saving it as a copy, and editing it to save myself some time - the original is my starting point which I alter to create a different version, usually when I am making many similar files. If they have a common starting point why keep re-creating it? But the lack of a proper, discrete save breaks this - I open the template, save a copy, then make my edits, only to realize that the stupid program made a copy but the file I have been editing is the original. Thanks for breaking all the expectations I learned using computers since the early 80s. Should not take me more than a decade or so to get used to this. Goddamnit, do an autosave if you want, but do NOT force me to stop saving on my own, and if you DO then keep the action consistent with the past. Killing the "shift" modifier on cmd-s that has ALWAYS meant "save as"? Dumb. Using "save as" to make a backup copy while leaving the original open? Dumber. Not letting me discretely choose where to put the original on first save? Christ, that one is completely asinine...
posted by caution live frogs at 8:33 AM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Its not like most movies feature 40 minutes of people checking facebook.

Yet.
posted by emjaybee at 8:34 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know what else are overused and outdated? Words.

Just click the picture! This is actually a thing that has bothered me for a long time -- all the way back to a version of AOL's browser that replaced all the words with cute pictures. Augment the word with an icon if you wish, as it makes it easier to spot on repeated use, and thus faster, but don't utterly replace it. The word "save" with a floppy icon above it is fine. Just a floppy icon is what will confuse people not culturally aware of the purpose of a floppy disk.

Illiteracy is a real thing, and it worries me that developers just cater to it sometimes, and dumb things down.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:35 AM on December 10, 2012


What's wrong with "save"ing files? :(

It implies there's an unsaved file - a file that exists only in the computer's memory, at the mercy of the next power cut or crash. Probably there's nothing the computer should care about as much as what you're working on right now and yet under the "save" model, that's the most fragile thing in the computer. Madness.

(Devil's in the detail of course -- there's a difference between "things I am pleased with and want to keep" and "changes I am experimenting with" and "old document I'm using to start something new" and a non-save-based interface has to cope with that -- but I think it's solvable. On preview: Yes, caution live frogs highlights the problems with Apple's first attempts pretty well.)
posted by fightorflight at 8:36 AM on December 10, 2012


Maybe they could all just be a series of ones and zeros in different combinations?

No wait, that would be physically inaccurate. Let's just put the electrical schematics ... no wait, those are abstractions too. I mean, resistors aren't actually little jagged squiggly lines... what's the deal with that?


Yeah, it always used to amuse/annoy me when I'd hear arguments essentially along the lines of "GUIs aren't real computing because you're not typing words on a command line" - wtf, dudes? It's all metaphors, analogies, and abstractions once you get beyond the lowest level. It's true of language as well.
posted by Philofacts at 8:39 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


> Seriously, short of a doctor's office or the DMV when are we coming in contact with clipboards?

I'm glad they still exist, because a clipboard and an 8.5x11 sheet of bristol board or card stock is absolutely my favorite sketching setup for either pencil or pen/ink. I guess I should go buy a dozen while I can still find 'em. (I also have a legal length clipboard; wish I could find legal-length card stock.)

Aside from being just the right size and weight, a major advantage of clipboards over any lap board ever made is that you can clip Stuff That Looks Like Work on top of your actual workpiece.
posted by jfuller at 8:39 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


As others have said, we have holdovers in design for the same reason that we have holdovers in words. They get reused, broadened, redefined. It's sometimes a worry, but mostly not.

On a related note, I once worked with a woman from Slovakia, and we were formatting a document on her computer. She had Word open, and, quite naturally, it was the Slovakian language version. I asked her to make a word italic, but she didn't know what that meant. So I said, "with slanting letters, press the 'I' button." She thought for a moment, and she said "so that's why it's an I!" I then had to explain that 'B' stood for "bold" and 'U' stood for "underline". She had been using Word since she was a young, and had a fair grasp of English, but had never made the link.
posted by Jehan at 8:41 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only good point in the article was that the search icons should be switched around.
posted by Edgewise at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2012


Not another one of these articles. Yes, we understand, you don't know what a professional microphone looks like. Yes, we understand, you don't know what a screwdriver and wrench are. Not my problem.

Some of the icons mentioned were ALWAYS bad choices for icons (and take a wild guess which company instituted them). I couldn't even begin to tell you what more than 50% of the icons in an MS Word toolbar mean… for the past 20 years of MS Office iterations. Oops, too big of a hint.
posted by readyfreddy at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The document should have a smiley face. If there are no changes to the document it should remain smiley. The more changes are made, the frownier it should get. Until you click it and 'save' and it gets all smiley again!


posted by mazola at 8:47 AM on December 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


Strange that this is such a popular metafilter post. I sort of assumed that everyone who knew anything about computers would have seen this 1,000,000 times. And they'd have heard of Scott Hanselman. (550,000 google hits and counting)

Anyway - He talks about how much he pissed people off with this article in his podcast.
posted by zoo at 8:48 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm also kinda pissed about the stupid 8-track joke. For one, the picture shown of a radio doesn't even have an 8-track. And besides that, they were a very short-lived medium anyway. Cassette tapes, however, still live on in some form.

happy monday. bleh
posted by readyfreddy at 8:49 AM on December 10, 2012


Also - Fuck you! I was writing assembler
code before you were born you little ageist bastard.

posted by zoo at 8:50 AM on December 10, 2012


That Drama podcast is worth a listen actually. Relistening now, and they're going through the javascript semicolon drama.

Geeks. Angry about all the things.
posted by zoo at 8:52 AM on December 10, 2012


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. (What's that?)

I have one of these for use with Skype, and it's great.
posted by thewalrus at 8:53 AM on December 10, 2012


BB - what? I don't really want a new icon at all. If you must use an icon, use an established one. But, DEPENDING ON THE PROJECT, it may be appropriate to explore the idea of not using icons at all! Or replacing select icons with words. I think you're focusing on the 'save' example to the detriment of comprehending my larger point. Icons are not always a force for disambiguation, that's pretty much it in a nutshell.

And yes, I always want more money for design and testing, that's how I roll!
posted by Mister_A at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I miss that puppy that used to help you search for things in windows xp.
posted by elizardbits at 8:58 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I killed 'im and replaced him with the word PUPPIE
posted by Mister_A at 9:00 AM on December 10, 2012


I miss that puppy that used to help you search for things in windows xp.

I thought that paper clip that would pop up and steal focus and offer to do stuff to my files that looked horrible and useless was really awesome, too.
posted by jeather at 9:03 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is the letter A an upside-down cow head?
posted by rikschell at 9:05 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm reminded of an interview I read with a YA sci-fi author where she said that she refused to use any slang based on nautical terms because obviously all the slang of her spacefaring extrasolar colonists would be space-based.

As if they don't have water on other planets.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:05 AM on December 10, 2012


However, it is just as easy for a non–English-speaking or ESL user to learn what 'save' means as it is to figure out what the floppy icon (or its replacement) stands for.
Unless such words have been fully assimilated in the local language, using common English words to replace icons is really a big flashing no-no from an international perspective, for all kinds of marketing and political reasons. Just picture the reaction of American or English users having to click on 保存文件 to save their files to get an idea of what the uproar would be like.
posted by elgilito at 9:12 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jehan: As others have said, we have holdovers in design for the same reason that we have holdovers in words. They get reused, broadened, redefined. It's sometimes a worry, but mostly not.

Yes, and most cultures have a rich visual symbolic "language" as well, (one not entirely rejected by modernism.) The key question should be whether a visual element is understandable to the audience, not whether the element has become a symbol rather than an icon due to the obsolescence of the pictured technology.

PhoBWanKenobi: I'm reminded of an interview I read with a YA sci-fi author where she said that she refused to use any slang based on nautical terms because obviously all the slang of her spacefaring extrasolar colonists would be space-based.

It's interesting to me how much nautical language ended up into aeronautics and our discussions of astronauts.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:18 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, of course elgilito. There is no single solution that is going to work for every situation. If you have a large international userbase that is certainly something that'll be covered in the brief. If you are executing regionalized iterations of the whatzit, you will go about things differently than if you are doing a single execution.

On preview: The key question should be whether a visual element is understandable to the audience -- that's it exactly. That's what I'm getting at here - don't just use icons in the ways you always have for the simple reason that you've always done so. Make sure you are creating an interface that makes the most sense to the most users.
posted by Mister_A at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2012


While we're piling on, I hate this "dead tree" malarkey, too. It was an interesting framing the first time it cropped up several years ago. At this point it's about as clever and accurate as saying 'GUYS, REMEMBER WHEN WE USED TO STORE INFORMATION ON MELTED SAND?'
posted by forgetful snow at 9:22 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


how much nautical language ended up into aeronautics

Imagine, measuring airspeed in knots - based on a knotted rope (length) and sandglass (time)

Fun fact from the link: a vessel travelling at 1 knot along a meridian travels one minute of geographic latitude in one hour
posted by achrise at 9:30 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


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!

OK, this has actually bothered me too - does that make me a gigantic nerd?


I think of it like this: binoculars are used to scan large areas of territory for a point of interest, and magnifying glasses are used to examine something carefully once you have determined the general area where the interesting thing should be. To me, the binoculars would be a better general icon.
posted by winna at 9:30 AM on December 10, 2012


A paperless office is as useful as a paperless bathroom.

And what's deposited on the average office's paperwork is worth about as much as what's on the bathroom's.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:31 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's what I'm getting at here - don't just use icons in the ways you always have for the simple reason that you've always done so. Make sure you are creating an interface that makes the most sense to the most users.

Absolutely. But if there is a standard icon, which most users understand and use appropriately, there has to be a good reason to change it for your particular application. Because you already have an interface that makes sense for most users, even if they might not know the history about why we have a picture of Aladdin's magic lamp when we need an oil change.
posted by jeather at 9:33 AM on December 10, 2012


The article reminded me of something your grandma might clip out of PARADE magazine and give you the next time you go over to fix her computer.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2012


I would suggest that the writer lacks a clue, but I believe his retort would be, "Yes, indeed, I lack a ball of thread or yarn; what of it?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:36 AM on December 10, 2012


Removing the save function would really piss me off. I am constantly saving documents to different folders, or renaming them as different drafts. Take that away and you remove a big chunk of the usability of office productivity programs for me.
posted by happyroach at 9:36 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


...goddam whippersnapper.

Get Off My Lawn.
posted by mule98J at 9:39 AM on December 10, 2012


In 2012, plenty of new car stereos, including original-equipment factory ones, have a row of radio buttons. They may not be mechanical but they behave in exactly the same way.

They're very convenient, though personally I'm nostalgic for a world in which there are even two radio stations worth listening to, let alone six.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:41 AM on December 10, 2012


You know, he's not saying that things have already changed to the point where nobody knows what these icons mean anymore. It's that they are changing. You can't deny that kids born and raised in the Internet age won't know what many of those icons originally represented without doing extra research. The question he poses in the introduction is "what happens when the icons cease to have any meaning outside of their continued use within computers?"

The answer is mundane, though. We'll just use them without thinking about it. For example, the pause symbol || is just something you learn and use, and only think about its origins for personal edification.

tl;dr: what rikschell said.
posted by rouftop at 9:45 AM on December 10, 2012


I don't think I've ever seen a "save" icon in my personal computing life. Is it a Windows thing? Maybe a Word thing? I have seriously never touched Word in my life.

"Save" to me is option-s. Or option-shift-/ if imwant to save something as a new file. It's the file menu briefly flashing blue and maybe a progress bar popping up if I'm working on a really big Illustrator file. Save is a dialogue box popping up when I close a window, warning me that I have unsaved changes and would I like to remedy this fact?.

But sending mail is a paper airplane, and if I stop and think about that it makes me giggle at how low it implies the likelihood of your mail actually reaching its destination is.
posted by egypturnash at 9:52 AM on December 10, 2012


I'm always surprised by these articles, how everyone focuses on the floppy disk being this ancient, archaic mystery icon, yet, no one says a word about the ubiquitous hourglass icon. I'm only 31, and the only time I've personally used an hourglass (outside of collectible/novelty shops) involved a copy of Pictonary my folks bought before I was born.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:53 AM on December 10, 2012


I hate to tell this guy, but it's not like the icons make sense to non-computer-users over the age of 30 either.

I can assure you, none of the elderly friends and relatives on the "Call ErikaB for computer help" list ever looks at an icon of a wrench and a hammer crossed on a manila folder and thinks, "Oh, that must be where I change the settings."

Most inexpert users can't even make out what the icon is supposed to be in the first place. I have heard people call the Save icon "that little square," and the microphone icon "the corndog-looking thing."

Besides, I think it's cute that my computer uses a floppy disk for Save. It's like it's saying "I remember those things, too! Don't worry, we shall grow old together!"
posted by ErikaB at 10:02 AM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


no one says a word about the ubiquitous hourglass icon.

That's pretty darn funny. The generic spinner is finally driving it out, though. That in turn is based on a simplified analogue clock; which probably won't go away any time soon: the circular representation of a dial for a continuous process is pretty fundamental and probably too useful to ever really go away.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:04 AM on December 10, 2012


Been thinking about this in the context of Apple's Time Machine.

A document history makes sense when older versions of documents are underneath the current document. I can parse that. But Apple decided to put a star field over the experience, and added the concept of travelling in time.

So now, to go backwards in time, you have to go forwards in space. The past is in front of you.

I actually never had a problem with this and that goes to shown that even a broken skeomorphic metaphor is fine as long as it's understood.

Interesting sidebar: There are actually cultures (I think from the Amazon) that say that the past is in front of you and the future is behind you. (Because you can see the past). That's freaky, and it also introduces the possibility that not only will some icons not make sense to youngsters, but they may also not make sense to specific cultures now. Even with icons there may be problems with translation.
posted by zoo at 10:05 AM on December 10, 2012


zoo, I believe I'd once read a Native American proverb or aphorism to the effect of "You walk into the future, backwards" for that very reason.
posted by infini at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2012


No one under 30 has seen a Polaroid in years

Polaroid stopped producing analog cameras in 2008, so a 10-year-old could have used a new model. The phrasing isn't great either.
posted by ersatz at 10:08 AM on December 10, 2012


I think somebody should just make a whole set of random shapes and squiggles for things. Look, it's the icons of the future! Then someday, they will be.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:10 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


> There are actually cultures (I think from the Amazon) that say that the past is in front of you and the future
> is behind you. (Because you can see the past).

Which would mean we're heading into the future bass-ackwards, which is certainly the case.
posted by jfuller at 10:17 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


(regarding the wrench)

"What contemporary tech is supposed to have replaced it?"

the proletariate
posted by idiopath at 10:20 AM on December 10, 2012


If we do eventually get to the place where saving a document/file/what-have-you is fully automated and behind the scenes, I hope to FSM that they don't then repurpose Ctrl+S and/or :w. I can just see the new standard behavior being irretrievably delete every third word or similar. That could totally ruin me.

Perhaps there can be a grace period of a decade or two where it just has the system flash a Nelson Muntz and play "Ha ha!". Kind of the way you can still ring the bell off the CLI. Doesn't do anything these days, but probably did something important a long time ago.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:29 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The response to the phone handset is funny to me because talking on a cell phone is an atrocity. The ergonomics are horrendous, the sound is lousy, and calls drop even when you're literally standing under the cell antennas for your carrier. The handset on a Western Electric Model 500, on the other hand, fits naturally in the hand, or can be propped against a shoulder. You can talk on one of those for hours, right up until it's time to be coy with your boyfriend and say "no—you hang up!" They're not fatiguing to use, they don't get hot like little radio frequency land mines, and, if you're angry, you can slam them down astonishingly hard without fear of breaking them, and there's even a little afterglow of the jostled bell left hanging in the air to perfectly punctuate the outburst.

Alternatively, I suppose, one could wear one of those Uhuru one-eared headset and undermine several billion years of symmetry in evolution, showing off the ubiquitous beacon of a blue LED to mark you as special in the eyes of your fellow cargo-cultists.

As for me, though, if I actually want to talk to you, I'll be in my telephone chair with the big black telephone, or in my kitchen with my sunshine yellow handset against my shoulder as I'm making date bars. The persistence of the symbol of a proper telephone is a lingering reminder that cell phones offer up universal connectivity, but not much grace. Besides, a stylized cell phone icon would be a rectangle.
posted by sonascope at 10:41 AM on December 10, 2012 [12 favorites]



Most inexpert users can't even make out what the icon is supposed to be in the first place. I have heard people call the Save icon "that little square," and the microphone icon "the corndog-looking thing."


I had a client who was furious that he had to send email after email and we still weren't removing the "frying pan" on the upper right hand corner despite his repeated requests. It took FOREVER before we realized it was the search icon he was talking about.
posted by sweetkid at 10:51 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course, Internet Explorer has renamed bookmarks. They're now "favorites". Except the only time I use Internet Explorer is at work for internal websites, and the bug database is certainly not a favorite thing of mine.
posted by ckape at 10:56 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


153 comments about an article complaining about historical design choices being historical.
posted by clarknova at 10:57 AM on December 10, 2012


Good lord this list is made to be forwarded to me a million times by my uncles. Thanks!

It's good to know that Andy Rooney was quickly reincarnated as another old guy.
posted by graventy at 10:57 AM on December 10, 2012


I'm sitting here looking at a battery icon which has a nipple on top, so that I know which way to insert it. And an alarm clock icon with two ear like bells on top which will be struck by the hammer when it goes off.

The carriage return key indicates what direction the type head will go when I push it, and the shift key indicates where the majuscule letters are stored.

Actually, this is just the design equivalent of those peevish etymologists who insist that decimate must continue to mean "remove 10%". Harmless, even useful if they'll accept their salary paid in salt.

Realistic prediction, the floppy disk will become increasingly stylised and possibly replaced with a vaguely similar looking Chinese character.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:07 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


First world bitching by someone who lives behind the keyboard.
posted by edgeways at 11:21 AM on December 10, 2012


The article isn't particularly original nor an especially clever re-hash of an already well-trodden topic. I do live with a nine year old, though, who often makes me realize how differently she sees the world.

Recently we were in a mall, when she said "Hey, look, it's a giant phone!" I looked around, trying to find something that looked like this but didn't. So she looked at me like I was nuts and pointed to this. And then I took a picture of it with my miniature version.

(She also had no idea what the weird little metal doors on the arms of the seats on the train were because she had never before seen an ashtray.)
posted by looli at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


English has become the western hemisphere tech lingua franca, and it's not a bad thing to keep that in mind and take advantage of it.

Frankly, it is a terrible thing to "take advantage of"; I would disagree with it very much. English is common, but it is not unique, and the inelegance of "borrowing" words for the tech world (a growing [and unlikely to shrink] part of everyday life in a widening manner across the world, for increasing groups of people) is leading to cottage industries; one of the biggest exports of Quebec is logical technological french. People simply want their own words not ugly little creep words (which, yeah, Le e-mail is an ugly, ugly little thing).
In 2003, the French government’s general commission on terminology and neology asked the French to stop using the word ‘email’ and replace it with ‘courriel’, which was already popular in Quebec. The word was added to FranceTerme, and its use expanded.
I am also reminded of this really interesting recent story on SignLanguage for STEM, which any future people trying to come up with sensible, and knowable, and logical semiotics for computers should consider
Imagine trying to learn biology without ever using the word “organism.” Or studying to become a botanist when the only way of referring to photosynthesis is to spell the word out, letter by painstaking letter.

The artilcle linked is ancient though, no? Or maybe it is just really unoriginal, but I am sure I have seen lists of like 20 or 30 of these anachron-img's, years back, with better origin stories for the symbols (better researched). But the ageism is seriously spurious, and superfluous to the point of "no thanks, get lost"; yes we ought to consider the "best metaphorical symbolics to represent a given function". It is only meaningless if it has no meaning. I am all for finding the best symbols (or even replacing the need for a symbol), but this is not that, this is "what's the deal with hairline froods", and no new ideas at all.

Know your Icon Histories.
Welcome to the GUI Gallery
Check out the GUI Guidebook (stay for the GUI timelines)!

For the record, this is an awesome 40 page version of the linked list;
In the rest of this article, I ask what it is that we are actually describing by such a juxtaposition. When we propose that a com- puter be presented as a metaphorical office or typewriter, one of the things we are really describing is the intended user of this computer, describing him or her as an office worker or typist. When we designer-researchers in HCI imag- ine a UI to be a work of literature, we are describing ourselves as creative authors rather than mundane technologists. The relationship between users and designers structures the commercial and social context of HCI, and is the basis of our academic and professional discipline. The remainder of this ar- ticle is structured to address these concerns, first in the historical context of desktop development, then commentary on the desktop and other metaphors, and finally, proposals for the way that metaphor should be used as a tool in future.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:29 AM on December 10, 2012


Boy, this thread is pretty hostile - what's with that?
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


> > There are actually cultures (I think from the Amazon) that say that the past is in front of you and the future is behind you. (Because you can see the past).

> Which would mean we're heading into the future bass-ackwards, which is certainly the case.



“Face the sun and your shadow falls behind you.” --Walt Whitman
 
posted by Herodios at 11:30 AM on December 10, 2012


randomkeystrike:
In other news, men's coats button a certain way so we can get to swords easier, or so I've been told.
Demonstrably false, BTW. This convention didn't become fixed until the 20th Century.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:32 AM on December 10, 2012


I've always hated the floppy icon. It looks ghastly, evokes nothing, and the pained 3-and-a-half-pixel representation of the write-protect notch is a particularly delirious bit of detail. But over time, things set and solidify and become de rigueur. There will always be visionaries calling for a re-imagining of the way we do things and Ted conferences for them to do it at, but realistically we are stuck with this dreadful bit of pictography forever, with the faintly musty waft of dead office plants to remind us of its presence in everything we do.
posted by deo rei at 11:33 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What we call common sense—the body of widely accepted truths—is, just as Heidegger and Nabokov thought, a collection of dead metaphor. Truths are the skeletons which remain after the capacity to arouse the senses—to cause tingles—has been rubbed off by familiarity and long usage. After the scales are rubbed off a butterfly’s wing, you have transparency, but not beauty—formal structure without sensuous content. Once the freshness wears off the metaphor, you have plain, literal, transparent language—the sort of language which is ascribed not to any particular person but to ‘common sense’ or ‘reason’ or ‘intuition’ [Rorty 1989, p. 152]
I doubt anyone is meaning to be intentionally hostile to other people (perhaps towards certain idioms and buttons that seem to just not go away [like the frying pan meaning search]); metaphors and symbols we must actively touch and use daily are bound to arouse passions though (I wonder if the need to actually physically touch icons is now changing how long people will passively, quietly put up with symbols that are confusing or annoying).
posted by infinite intimation at 11:40 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


ckape, I made sure I can find your comment again if I ever need to by using MeFi's built in bookmarking function.
posted by ambrosen at 11:40 AM on December 10, 2012


Seriously, short of a doctor's office or the DMV when are we coming in contact with clipboards?

Yeah, those kids these days with their never-having-used-clipboards.
posted by dersins at 11:42 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Someone needs to do a Rear Window parody with the guy obsessively texting his suspicions about his neighbors to facebook or twitter.

I would watch this movie.


It would work better as an epistolary novel, except that the term epistolary is a throwback to when... ah, skipit.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2012


Get Off My Lawn.

Yes, but how many of today's urban hipsters have ever seen a lawn? I propose, in order to reach the intended youthful audience, we just start saying "shut the fuck up, kid."
posted by entropicamericana at 11:46 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


MrGuilt: A paperless office is as useful as a paperless bathroom.
89 million Japanese say "違います".
posted by IAmBroom at 11:50 AM on December 10, 2012


Man enough with linking to guide2toilets.com all the time. We all read guide2toilets.com anyway.
posted by Mister_A at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2012


153 comments about an article complaining about historical design choices being historical.

Eh, it's Monday.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:53 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


MrGuilt: A paperless office is as useful as a paperless bathroom.

89 million Japanese say "違います".


The Indians and Chinese add a few billion more.
posted by infini at 11:55 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is the letter A an upside-down cow head?

Because the right-side-up cow head was already a tax icon.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:58 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyway, why is no one all angry about "Wednesday" and "Thursday," when no one has worshiped the Norse gods in a cultural way for nearly 1000 years? Not to mention why we still worship the deified Octavian with our idolatrous "August."

Quakers still number the days of the weeks and the months in offical Quaker documents like meeting minutes, because early Quakers, who were profoundly Christian, didn't want to use the names of pagan gods. Nobody's really worked up about it anymore; it's just one of our charming anachronisms held over from the old days. So, today, for instance would be Twelfth Month 10. The day of the week today is Second Day, since First Day is the day we gather for worship. Our kids get their religious education in First Day School.
posted by not that girl at 12:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Boy, this thread is pretty hostile - what's with that?

Skeuomorphism backlash backlash.

The next rev of fashionable web-widgets will use metaphors from machines that were in use for no more than a five year period somewhere between 1898 and 1974. Numerical entry will be based on mechanical pocket calculators. You'll need to hit the flashbar icon to turn on your phone's camera LED. To print something out, you'll need to hit the icon that looks like this.

It will be glorious!

Then there will be backlash to the skeuomorphism backlash backlash, but by then we'll have moved onto neural interfaces and intention-based computing. Or we'll all be zombies after the plague. One of the two.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:12 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but how many of today's urban hipsters have ever seen a lawn? I propose, in order to reach the intended youthful audience, we just start saying "shut the fuck up, kid."

But how many youth no (do they know no isn't know or do they even know about know) that a kid is a young goat?

The interfaces for idiots trend is, I imagine, lorded over by those who think we should turn the country into Beavis and Butthead or from fear that when you put out something people need to learn about, it will be a colossal failure.

Boy, this thread is pretty hostile - what's with that?

Have you seen the reaction to Windows 8? A very slight learning curve is the end of the world these days.
posted by juiceCake at 12:14 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


“Face the sun and your shadow falls behind you.” --Walt Whitman

Are you making a joke based on mis-attributed internet quotations? I couldn't quite tell.
posted by not that girl at 12:15 PM on December 10, 2012


When was the last time you saw a discrete "save" command on an iOS app, for instance?

About 2 hours ago when I was using Nanostudio. You use it to save the song you're working on - potentially under a new name, if you wish.

I agree, auto-save is the way things are going, but there are just some things you don't want to auto-save. What if I'm editing a system configuration file and it gets saved half-way through my edits, messing up the system?
posted by Jimbob at 12:18 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Auto-save is fine for video games.
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Auto-save is fine for video games.

Except those games that get you into unwinnable situations but don't immediately kill you.
posted by jeather at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


"old people icons"?

That's a big fuck you to the author from this old person.
posted by Splunge at 12:44 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've recently been criticizing Apple a lot for failing to innovate, but they're definitely doing good work by killing the 'Save' metaphor.

And yet, Apple designed a new Save icon. I don't know if it's very clear, but it's obviously supposed to mean something going down into your computer. So that still relies on the old icon, which usually had a down arrow pointing to a floppy disk.

This icon appears in the Safari browser's PDF Reader mode, I don't know how long it's been there but it probably predates the autosave feature (which is not widely implemented yet). Save is never going away.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:59 PM on December 10, 2012


That icon, to me, says 'download'. Which has a save-ish component but is not identical to 'save'. Imagine if the icon also SAID save! Can you imagine? I can - everyone would yell about it.
posted by Mister_A at 1:01 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I, too, get "download" from that.
posted by Artw at 1:04 PM on December 10, 2012


That's not a download icon? I grant that in a web browser, "save file to computer" and "download file to computer" are pretty much interchangeable (and probably the latter is more clear), but I wouldn't understand the point of that icon on an application that lives on my computer.
posted by jeather at 1:14 PM on December 10, 2012


The PDF reader 'save' is actually closer to 'download' in functionality, so that makes sense. They probably shouldn't even call it save since it's not something the user is making changes to.

Also this article is referring to people older than children as 'old people', so we can put the pitchforks away.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:28 PM on December 10, 2012


Technically, the PDF file is already downloaded and only needs to be saved to disk.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:29 PM on December 10, 2012


Someone needs to do a Rear Window parody with the guy obsessively texting his suspicions about his neighbors to facebook or twitter.
You know what? That sounds pretty awful.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never saw Disturbia but isn't that it?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:37 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not really, the dude is grounded and not allowed to use the internet.
posted by Justinian at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2012


Someone needs to do a Rear Window parody with the guy obsessively texting his suspicions about his neighbors to facebook or twitter.
This is rather brilliant, really, but not as a film. Rather, as a real-time Twitter performance.

A bit like those historical blogs that were popular a few years ago, but more immediate. I'd almost be willing to join Twitter to follow it. You'd need to announce it well in advance or it'd be over before most people heard about it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


195 comments in... and not a single reference to paste.

I believe I'm losing my faith in the blue.

(Seriously people, it's PASTE!)
posted by Blue_Villain at 1:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


About 2 hours ago when I was using Nanostudio
Interesting. What does nanostudio do if a call comes in and it's killed? Do you just lose all your work? I'd be amazed if it wasn't also auto saving as it went along.

System configuration files are an area that does need special handling -- I might try TextEdit on one later and see what happens -- but it's not an impossible problem: just have a files offer up their last-good state to callers opening them for reading while they're locked for writing, for instance. Something like this already happens if you attach a file to an email while simultaneously editing it.
posted by fightorflight at 2:12 PM on December 10, 2012


I feel like I should say something here but I really don't have much to add.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 2:21 PM on December 10, 2012


Blue_Villain: (Seriously people, it's PASTE!)

Can you eat it?

fightorflight: System configuration files are an area that does need special handling -- I might try TextEdit on one later and see what happens -- but it's not an impossible problem: just have a files offer up their last-good state to callers opening them for reading while they're locked for writing, for instance. Something like this already happens if you attach a file to an email while simultaneously editing it.

A versioning file system or API would be good, if a bit weird for most users. At a minimum, you have a major checkpoint when you start the session, and when you close a session.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:38 PM on December 10, 2012


And we've been caught acting like jerks again.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:06 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


A versioning file system or API would be good, if a bit weird for most users. At a minimum, you have a major checkpoint when you start the session, and when you close a session.

I remember some office workers telling me about the VMS way of versioning of files and how we haven't come close yet. This was in the late 90s but I'm willing to bet their assessment of modern file handling hasn't changed.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:08 PM on December 10, 2012


So we need a COMMIT icon?
posted by Artw at 3:10 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember the save icon in Microsoft Office 2001 for Mac being a Zip Disk, not a 3.5" floppy. I thought this was a cute acknowledgement that Macs didn't come with floppy drives any more. It stuck around through Office 2008 but went back to a floppy for Office 2011.
posted by zsazsa at 3:14 PM on December 10, 2012


And we've been caught acting like jerks again.

NEVER CRITICIZE ANYTHING EVER OR YOU'RE A BIG FAT JERK AND/OR CRANKY OLD GEN-XER.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:15 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


And we've been caught acting like jerks again.

He's hoisted a flag on one of the Mac vs. PC battlefronts, and he's surprised to be taking incomming artillery?
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And then a BRANCH Icon, and then MERGE BRANCH.

And then some joker in development is going to decide it needs to be a DVCS and you're going to have to explain to your elderly aunt why she needs to do a pull request before sending anything to you.
posted by zoo at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess "save" could be like a safe or something? Or a stylized piggy bank for childs?

Instead of radio buttons we could have one contiguous fancy circle with a colour scheme running from cold to hot, and you use your finger to drag the pointer to the exact state you want your computer to be placed into. "Rudimentary hibernation", "extreme hibernation", etc. I have never once been infuriated by hitting "Standby" instead of "Reboot" so this won't be a problem at all.

Paste is easy - a jar of Clag.

Instead of "bookmarking" something you physically fold down the top-right or top-left corner of your screen. It has a near-invisible magnetic hinge built in for this purpose.

Address Books and Calendars, certainly nobody knows what those are any more. A better replacement for both these things would be a 43 Folders-esque pile of index cards secured with a bulldog clip.

Voicemail would just be a tiny red flashing light somewhere on the screen.

Instead of manila folders we have...sectors on a hard disk? Thumbdrives with icons hovering over them? Perhaps a series of tubes.

The handset phone icon is silly, yeah. Phones these days are rectangles. A square icon with a rectangle in it should replace this.

"Search". Hmm. Instead of magnifying glass and binocs we just link to Google. Just Google everything ever.

Also other things, I have to go.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:35 PM on December 10, 2012


He's hoisted a flag on one of the Mac vs. PC battlefronts, and he's surprised to be taking incomming artillery?

Eh? This set of icons is pretty far from Big Skeumorphics and is pretty cross platform, as well as having made sizable web inroads.
posted by Artw at 3:39 PM on December 10, 2012


The handset phone icon is silly, yeah. Phones these days are rectangles. A square icon with a rectangle in it should replace this.

This morning my daughter compared our window to a big phone with a line down it. I was momentarily confused, but yeah: phones are rectangles full of colorful images now.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on December 10, 2012


This problem would completely go away if we forced everyone to use the command line.
posted by polymodus at 3:42 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Did you ever look at an ampersand ("&") and wonder why it's that shape? It's a stylised form of "et", the Latin word for "and". Scribes used it as a shortcut because it was such a common word. If you start making an ampersand and stop halfway through you end up with a letter "e". By continuing, you're making a letter "t" by crossing the tail of the "e".
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I'm looking at all the horrible icons on my horrible Perforce client at the moment and despairing a little re: the whole VCS thing.
posted by Artw at 3:45 PM on December 10, 2012


This problem would completely go away if we forced everyone to use the command line.

With its commands that are 90% comprised of ancient typos and neckbeard injokes.
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on December 10, 2012


So we need a COMMIT icon?

So the new 'save' icon should be a diamond ring?
posted by mazola at 3:49 PM on December 10, 2012


Artw: It's not just perforce.
posted by zoo at 3:49 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I personally am in favor of adding little pronunciation mnemonics to the common icons. For example, the floppy disk icon for saving should go with a stylized little picture of a shaver, because to shave and to save rhyme. That way you can remember the icon from its meaning (floppies were used for saving things) or the pronunciation (the shave-save rhyme). Even if I do say so myself, I think this is a pretty radical idea.

I-cockneys replacing icons ... hmm ... might be a bit TOO radical.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 4:03 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Artw: It's not just perforce.

Basically all our icons will become little diagrams of arrowes going into and out of things. Still, that one gets points for one of the things being a tortoise instead of the usual page.
posted by Artw at 4:10 PM on December 10, 2012


Some more of the internet has discovered my article on Floppy Disks and have proceeded to crap on it, and me.

Yes, no doubt the reason lots of different groups of people have said negative things about this article is because they are terrible people who hate you, and not because it is a poorly-reasoned article.
posted by jeather at 4:14 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


What's up with Clarus the Dogcow too?
posted by unliteral at 4:15 PM on December 10, 2012


The "paste" icon is a sheet pulled loose from a clipboard because "paste" pulls data from the "clipboard", which is where text/data goes when you "copy" it.

I think cut/copy/paste make sense conceptually, but I'm not sure how the clipboard fits in. Shouldn't it be a scrapbook?

I agree that the voice mail icon is bad, but I'm not sure what I would replace it with.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:19 PM on December 10, 2012


Good post. As an addendum to the envelope one, I've never understood the logic of the envelope icons in Outlook: if it's an unread message, it's a closed yellow envelope; however it it's a read message, yes, it's open, but now the envelope is white and the flap is yellow. Wouldn't it make more sense to leave the envelope yellow, and just change the flap (the inside) to white?
posted by anothermug at 4:30 PM on December 10, 2012


I agree that the voice mail icon is bad, but I'm not sure what I would replace it with.

A tiny butler carrying a card?
A glowing green droplet to symbolise the moment Bell dropped acid on his trousers.
A badly drawn snail with an arrow and the handwritten text "VOY

What do I win?


/though the fact that we call it "Voice Mail" is a mistake. It's a recorded voice message at the very least.
posted by zoo at 4:31 PM on December 10, 2012


Technically, the PDF file is already downloaded and only needs to be saved to disk.

Technically, the PDF is probably already on disk as a temporary file and is going to be copied somewhere more sensible if you click the icon. But anyway.

What does nanostudio do if a call comes in and it's killed? Do you just lose all your work? I'd be amazed if it wasn't also auto saving as it went along.

It does auto-save, to be honest - when you open the app, it asks if you want to continue from your last auto-save, or load a proper saved file. Which I guess sounds confusing, but I like having an explicit save button that (a) lets me save different version of a file with different names (b) know that I've saved it right at that point, rather than being unsure how many minutes ago auto-save decided to save it.
posted by Jimbob at 4:34 PM on December 10, 2012


Maybe an envelope with a speech balloon on it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:37 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some more of the internet has discovered my article on Floppy Disks and have proceeded to crap on it, and me.

Wonderful. You can't have a conversation or present an alternate point of view with Barry.
posted by juiceCake at 5:19 PM on December 10, 2012


Yeah, um, If I'd written an article and then found comments like that I'd assume Metafilter was a site full of assholes too. Pedantry, and chronic need to be the cleverest and an embrace of near deliberate point missing in pursuit of that - it's a nice compilation of our worst qualities.
posted by Artw at 5:35 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't mind the cleverness, but I hate the pedantry. What is the name of the logical fallacy where, if you don't explicitly acknowledge every potentiality, your interlocutor will jump in and yell, "What about Poland! He forgot Poland," and you're all like, 'no I didn't dumb-ass, we were just focusing on England for the nonce'?
posted by Mister_A at 5:38 PM on December 10, 2012


it's a nice compilation of our worst qualities.

In case you missed it, there was a lovely little kerfluffle in advance of the Metro UI calling out Apple for using skeuomorphic elements in its UI. This is more of the same, only with the special sauce of agism. It's not an original insight, it's inexpertly argued, and so it's fair game. If you're a tech pundit, when you bring it, you best bring it by the bucket.

There may be a good venue to discuss UI metaphors and their standardization... this ain't it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2012


Let them eat command lines!
posted by LogicalDash at 7:04 PM on December 10, 2012


In case you missed it, there was a lovely little kerfluffle in advance of the Metro UI calling out Apple for using skeuomorphic elements in its UI. This is more of the same, only with the special sauce of agism.

Suuuuure it is.
posted by Artw at 7:07 PM on December 10, 2012


So we need a COMMIT icon?

So the new 'save' icon should be a diamond ring?


Nah: a straight-jacket.
posted by pompomtom at 7:44 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, no doubt the reason lots of different groups of people have said negative things about this article is because they are terrible people who hate you, and not because it is a poorly-reasoned article.

Yes, many people constructively pointed out the flaws in his argument. Many other people said negative things about the person who wrote the article, which is an odd response to a "poorly-reasoned article". You might notice that the personal comments occurred pretty early on in the thread, with more substantive criticism coming later, but if you were reading a blog with a bunch of personal negative comments first, would you bother reading all the way to find those substantive criticisms?

In case you missed it, there was a lovely little kerfluffle


Yeah, there were links to it on metafilter and places like that. You might think that someone at Microsoft would had to have known. But Microsoft isn't like that- from everything I've heard, it's extremely balkanized. A lot of the company is not terribly directly involved with Metro or its UI debates. If someone just happens to not occupy the same corners of the internet that you do, they really might have missed that particular kerfluffle. So instead of being like "hey, look at that shitstorm, I want to be a part of that!", my guess is he was more like "icons are silly! Wait, what's up with this shitstorm?"
posted by Jpfed at 7:57 PM on December 10, 2012


Given that auto-save is a fairly normal feature of software these days, is there really any need for a save function at all?

At least in Microsoft Word, auto-save doesn't save often enough, and sometimes saves versions that I wouldn't want to go back to, when I'm in the middle of a series of complex updates to a document. And when the program inevitably crashes and I restart it, the "recovered" document is almost always not quite updated to where I last saved. I prefer to have control over what shape the document is in when it's saved.
posted by limeonaire at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2012


fightorflight writes ""Save" as a discrete operation is a hideous throwback to days of memory and storage constraints that simply don't exist any more. When was the last time you saw a discrete "save" command on an iOS app, for instance?"

It's hard to imagine something that would mess with my work flow more than getting rid of save and instead let the computer decide when to save stuff. I routinely open a file for editing; pound away at for a while; and then either discard all the changes or save as a new file. Plus when I'm making progress I'll do a "save as" every 15-60 minutes in order to be able to revert (and as a guard against data loss) at any time.

I can see how some kind of autosave scheme would be useful on a non multitasking device but my computers have been able to multitask for at least 15 years now. But it should be seen as the crutch it is for inferior equipment.
posted by Mitheral at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I sort of suspect that SSD and Always-On will eventually do in the need to compulsively mash Ctrl-S every couple of minutes. You'll pry "Save as" and the acompanying notion of a file structure (version controlled or otherwise) out of my cold dead hands though.
posted by Artw at 8:20 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, short of a doctor's office or the DMV when are we coming in contact with clipboards?

Everyone should invest in a couple of nice recycled aluminum clipboards. Seriously, my clipboards are some of the most useful things I've ever bought myself.

the need to compulsively mash Ctrl-S every couple of minutes

Are you kidding me? More like every couple of seconds, when I'm editing some documents.
posted by limeonaire at 8:29 PM on December 10, 2012


I had a car radio that let you press more than one button at a time. It had five station-preset buttons but you could press adjacent buttons at the same time to access four more presets.

You need to go back another generation to the old analog radios. The preset buttons attached to a string which wrapped around the variable capacitor tuner and rotated it. When you pushed in on one button it physically pushed out all the other buttons, making it impossible to push two at the same time. That is the real origin of the radio button icon -- pushing one option automatically deselects all other options. The analog radio implemented a mechanical two-button lock-out.
posted by JackFlash at 9:22 PM on December 10, 2012


I have to admit - I have NEVER thought of radio buttons as anything other than "the round mutually exclusive ones" and never in terms of any physical analogue whatsoever.
posted by Artw at 9:24 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you sort of halfheartedly pressed two simultaneously you could get them both down about a quarter of the way. It didn't do anything. This was called hacking.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I did just recently find myself describing the awesomeness of going to the school office to mimeograph worksheets for classes in elementary school. Warm, sweet smelling mimeographs with smeary purple ink.

Nitpicking, but you are not describing mimeograph. Mimeograph was a stencil process that used real ink, usually black, and had no particular odor. Instead, what you are describing is the spirit duplicator, usually known by the brand name, the Ditto machine. The Ditto machine used a master on which a negative of the image was inscribed with an ink saturated wax. To make copies, alcohol spirit was spread on the copy paper which dissolved a little bit of the wax to release ink onto the copy. Since the only source of ink was the wax on the original master, copies became lighter and lighter if you tried to make too many. The smell was of isopropanol and methanol alcohols.
posted by JackFlash at 9:37 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


For example, the floppy disk icon for saving should go with a stylized little picture of a shaver, because to shave and to save rhyme.

I can not help but hear a rich O'Connery brogue. "Remember to shave those files e'rry five minutes, shun. Yur not be wantin to lose them. Shave and be shafe."

Also: "save" should be a box with a broad down arrow. Transfer to storage box.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:11 PM on December 10, 2012


It's arrows all the way down...
posted by Artw at 10:22 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would have no clue whatsoever what this was.
posted by Artw at 10:24 PM on December 10, 2012


I would have no clue whatsoever what this was.

Wow. Thats a good example of well-intentioned cluelessness. But its still cluelessness.
posted by vacapinta at 2:11 AM on December 11, 2012


It's hard to imagine something that would mess with my work flow more than getting rid of save and instead let the computer decide when to save stuff.

That's not what doing without saves is -- that's Word's crappy autosave model you're thinking of. In a world without saving, the document is always retained, continually as you work. Think Google Docs, where you can abruptly close the window and lose nothing, more than Word, where "saves" are still happening at an indeterminate point.

I routinely open a file for editing; pound away at for a while; and then either discard all the changes or save as a new file.

This is probably the sole hardest bit to change, because it depends on the assumption that you're not actually editing the file, you're editing a fragile in-memory copy. This is a behaviour learned from the limitations of the machine, not anything that actually makes sense. In the real world if you want to edit something and keep the original, you make a copy first, not after.

(That said, the current Mac OS has both revert to and Save As -- now finally fixed -- that support your pounding, discarding and saving, even in its always-saved world.)

Plus when I'm making progress I'll do a "save as" every 15-60 minutes in order to be able to revert (and as a guard against data loss) at any time.

So you are happy with data loss of up to 60 minutes of work? Bonkers. Let the machine do it. Reverting, again, is handled in the Mac implementation with a timeline view that shows you the history of your document as you were working on it (including manually created snapshot points) that lets you jump back to a version from hours ago, grab some text from it and hoik it back into the present. It's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than My Doc 1 Latest 1 New Temp 4.docx

I can see how some kind of autosave scheme would be useful on a non multitasking device but my computers have been able to multitask for at least 15 years now. But it should be seen as the crutch it is for inferior equipment.

Requiring manual saves is the crutch -- it's forcing the human to help the computer manage resources that were meagre in 1984 but are now bountiful. It's the equivalent of a choke on a carburettor, or a starter handle.

Except in vanishingly rare cases, we have more than enough space and power to store every possible version of the documents being edited on modern computers. The only remaining question is the best UX and UI to let users manage that.
posted by fightorflight at 3:14 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a behaviour learned from the limitations of the machine, not anything that actually makes sense. In the real world if you want to edit something and keep the original, you make a copy first, not after.

When I was in college in the early 90's I used VMS systems a lot. Their versioning always made the most sense to me.

Its like they solved a problem that we then had to re-solve later.
posted by vacapinta at 3:20 AM on December 11, 2012


fightorflight writes "In the real world if you want to edit something and keep the original, you make a copy first, not after."

The problem is I often don't know if I want to keep the changes or not.

And my method of versioning is implemented like VMS with a very rigid structure that keeps things in sequence.

I'm curious; how does Mac OS handle having a file open in multiple applications or handle having the same document open multiple times?
posted by Mitheral at 4:01 AM on December 11, 2012


The problem is I often don't know if I want to keep the changes or not.
The revert command handles this -- lets you go back to the version you opened, if you don't want your changes.

I'm curious; how does Mac OS handle having a file open in multiple applications or handle having the same document open multiple times?

For the first, only one application can have something opened for writing. The rest get a read-only version of the last version that the system considers user-approved (eg they hit save, quit the application etc). For the latter, the Mac doesn't really support this in the same app. In separate apps, same as before -- one can write, rest get the last snapshot.

(NB: It's not seamless yet, or anything like it. Apps have to support new APIs to get the full benefits of versioning etc)
posted by fightorflight at 4:17 AM on December 11, 2012


At least in Microsoft Word, auto-save doesn't save often enough

You can view the setting for how often it saves and change it.

Word, where "saves" are still happening at an indeterminate point

You can view the setting for how often it saves and change it so it wouldn't be indeterminate, though of course not the same as Google Drive I realize though Word does have it's own versioning system.
posted by juiceCake at 5:52 AM on December 11, 2012


I want all UI to work like word perhect.
posted by plinth at 5:54 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


MrGuilt: A paperless office is as useful as a paperless bathroom.

89 million Japanese say "違います".

The Indians and Chinese add a few billion more.


I doubt too many of the the Indians and Chinese would be speaking Japanese...

But anyway, I've been in plenty of bathrooms in China and while the public ones are often paperless in their default state, it's not because they're all equipped with bidets and when you are actually in one you better hope you have some toilet paper on you or it's going to be a rather unpleasant time.
posted by kmz at 6:59 AM on December 11, 2012


why does everything have to be ahistorical
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:48 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Artw: "You'll pry "Save as" and the acompanying notion of a file structure (version controlled or otherwise) out of my cold dead hands though."

Luckily to implement such a "feature", one would need to be a developer. And you'll be pretty hard pressed to find a developer that thinks completely hiding the file system from all users is a good idea. Now, if you want to use operating systems other than GNU/Linux, you still may have something to worry about. But there will always be Linux.
posted by idiopath at 9:29 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


/Eyes shuttle worth warily.

Though TBH all Linux desktops are made by people given to saying things like "if the user really wanted to do THAT they'd use the command line."
posted by Artw at 9:44 AM on December 11, 2012


Just a note here to day that I stand by my nasty comment.
posted by Splunge at 3:40 PM on December 11, 2012


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