Posts Tagged ‘icons’

Icons and labels

I was reading Ars Technica’s first look at Windows 7’s UI and one thing in particular stood out for me, the fact that text descriptions for buttons on the taskbar will be going away.

windows 7 taskbar

Text descriptions on the buttons are gone, in favor of big icons.

There are still text descriptions, but they appear over thumbnails that show up when you mouse over one of the taskbar icons.

windows 7 taskbar thumbnails

There’s a big dependence on iconography here. There was a very small bit of this in Vista, as the Start button was replaced with the Windows logo, but these changes are a much greater shift towards favoring icons over icons+text in the UI. Unfortunately, a potential issue I see here is that unless a user recognizes an application’s icon instantly, they’re now forced to mouse over all the taskbar icons unknown to them in order to find the app or window they’re looking for. This may, however, be a non-issue as the taskbar may typically just be filled with application icons familiar to the user, so cases of scanning over unknown icons in the taskbar will be rare. Whether this is a success or not remains to be seen, but the reason this caught my attention was because of something I read a long time ago on the importance of labels, written by a program manager on the MS Office User Experience team,

One of the problems noticed again and again among non-expert users was that people didn’t use the toolbar at all! … people used the menus to reply, forward, and to create new messages.

… one change caused a total turnaround: labeling the important toolbar buttons. Almost immediately, the toolbars were a big hit and everyone at all skill levels starting using them.

It’s not that icons can’t work by themselves, but that most people have a fairly limited vocabulary. Floppy disk = save. Printer = print. …

… considering that I already know how to speak English; it’s a lot of work to learn how to speak “Iconese” on top of that.

What’s particularly interesting is that the icons being talked about aren’t particularly exotic (reply, forward, send, etc. in Outlook), and toolbar icons are perhaps as common as taskbar icons.

Finally, developers will understand this, what happens if you have 2 applications with the same icon? I don’t expect this to be a major concern, but still, I have a bunch of apps I’ve written with just the default application icon, these changes to the taskbar will certainly make switching between them more difficult.