[ubuntu-art] Bad visual metaphors

Nacho de los Ríos Tormo nachodelosrios at gmail.com
Fri Mar 2 13:05:57 GMT 2007

>>      1. "Save." Nobody uses floppy disks anymore! We need an updated
>>         metaphor, even if it's just some stupid abstract symbol that
>>         doesn't really represent something in the real world - as long
>>         as one can grow to associate it consistently with committing
>>         something semi-permanently to disk, that's OK in my book!
> I think the same, in tango after some discussion was choosed to use
> the hd + arrow which may not be the best metaphor, but it's better
> then the obsolete floppy.
The hd+arrow works very badly in my humble opinion, assuming knowledge 
of what a hard disk looks like: most users have never EVER seen a 
disembodied hard disk drive, and not knowing what the gray box is, the 
purpose of the arrow becomes totally opaque, too.

Maybe an arrow pointing in and out of a folder might do for save and open.

>>      4. Cut/Copy/Paste. We just nicked these off everyone else, and I'm
>>         not convinced they're particularly intuitive (neither in name
>>         nor in visuals), but that could be somewhat controversial.

I totally agree about the visuals: The scissors are OK, but the two 
pages for "copy" don't look as a copy of anything, and clipboard for 
"paste" is 1000% obscure.

Now, how about these for the list of bad metaphors (of course, always IMHO):

** The shredder for "delete": I have written about this before, but the 
more I see it, the more I dislike it. Most people have never seen or 
operated a shredder in their life, and for 99.99% of the world's 
population, shredding a paper is not the way of getting rid of it: They 
crumple it or rip it and then throw it in a bin.

That is made worse by the fact that a shredder is a featureless object, 
difficult to depict in a small icon. I've shown the shredder icons in 
Gnome to coworkers, my boyfriend, my sisters and my nephews, and most 
did not recognize the object, much less its purpose in a GUI. I had to 
*explain* to my nephews what a shredder is. I think the large shredder 
looks a lot like an unfinished icon for a manual typing machine, and the 
mini version looks a bit like a square medusa with three tentacles showing.

The trashcan is so much better! Everybody knows what a trashcan is. If 
you really MUST show that deletion is irrecoverable, a piece of paper 
ripped into four pieces, maybe falling into a trashcan might do. Anyway, 
don't forget that the shredder icon is currently being used to send 
things to the trashcan.

** The magnifying glass for "search" is so quaint! Face it, nobody reads 
Sherlock Holmes novels anymore; you need scanners, and microscopes, and 
videocameras to search, or so we see in CSI. Lets keep the use of the 
spyglass for zooming purposes.

But then, what could we use for search? I don't really know ... a dog? a 
needle in a haystack? ;-)

** The crumpled paper for "spam" in Evolution. You might crumple a piece 
of paper because it is spam, because you've read it, or because you 
don't want to read it. The ambiguity is made worse by the fact that it 
would be extremely difficult to depict well a crumpled piece of paper in 
such a small set of pixels, and I don't think the current icon is up to 
par. Sorry, don't want to offend anybody, but I don't like it very much!

** The trashcan for "spam" in Thunderbird. Again, there is nothing in 
the trashcan that leads you to think that everything inside is spam. The 
adjacent red cross for "delete" further complicates the matter, as it is 
extremely hard to determine which one does what.

I think a piece of paper with a sad  or sick (red?) smiley might do fine 
for "spam", and with a happy smiley for "ham". The trashcan should 
contain all emails that are thrown away.

I could go on, but this is already too long. I hope you agree with me, 
and together we make the icon set for gnome the best ever.

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