[ubuntu-art] Bad visual metaphors

Jakub Steiner jimmac at novell.com
Fri Mar 2 14:53:19 GMT 2007

On Fri, 2007-03-02 at 14:05 +0100, Nacho de los Ríos Tormo wrote:
> >>      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.

We've had the very same discussion when we designed the save icons. The
drive won, because it's differs greatly from the folder used for open.
Having two folders with an arrow next to each other is a bad thing, even
if you try to compensate with, say, color coding. So we went for the
lesser evil. But maybe you guys can go the extra mile and come up with
something better...

> 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.

Gnome icon theme uses two types of trash bins. The recoverable trash bin
looks like a typical office bin behind your table you can reach to and
recover something. The one for edit-delete is the one you have on the
side of the road, unlikely diving in to recover stuff. Most people will
probably not be able to make a distinction, especially when the outside
bins differ country to country, but perhaps is a lesser evil than the

> ** 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.

On one hand I do like the idea having smiley faces (easy
approve/disapprove), yet emoticon icons do show up in the UI already,
for, well, inserting emoticons. Again, I agree the paper is not a strong
metaphor or not even well executed, and would welcome any decent
metaphor suggestions for improvement. 

Oh an btw, this discussion reaches outside the boundaries of the Ubuntu
project. This isn't a branding discussion. I'd like to suggest to
transfer all this energy around icon metaphors upstream, to the
gnome-themes[1] list. I fear the very same discussions happen on fedora
or Mandriva lists as well :/


Jakub Steiner <jimmac at novell.com>
Novell, Inc.

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