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Abstract vs Realistic Icons  (View post)

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

Thursday, November 29, 2007
12 years ago6,248 views

Not sure what you're getting at Philipp, are you saying that the new Vista / Mac icons are prettier to look at at a glance but less satisfying when you use them on a daily basis? Not sure I agree, but I haven't played with Vista long enough to say for sure.

The biggest problem IMO is that the whole 'files in folders' metaphor is horribly broken and needs replacing. It's all digital, I should be able to have the same file in multiple places without having to copy or use a clunky 'shortcut'. Bring on file tagging!

Stuk [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

I agree with everything you say Reto. The penultimate picture shows how the silhouette of the "new" mac trash icon isn't as distinctive as the "old" icon, but you didn't make any analysis Phillip.

And file tagging would be brilliant. When I work on websites, do I put the code in a "website" subfolder of the organisation folder, or an organisation subfolder of the "website" folder?

James Xuan [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Google OS will use labels, instead of folders, a bane for some old-fashioned users...

Freiddie [PersonRank 7]

12 years ago #

Tagging is a good idea, but if only anyone has dared to implement a tag-based OS. Or has they? People should try it out and see if it's a good idea or not.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

You can achieve the same thing in linux (Ie. you can put a file in multiple directories). Tagging is just putting this process in reverse – instead of putting a file in a directory you apply a directory to a file.

To work you would still need to have hierarchical (multi-level) tagging, which Google hasn't yet implemented anywhere.

Microsoft's oft-delayed WinFS should let us define our own file meta-data and file storage metaphor. If it ever gets released.

Jeremy Horn [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

Nice angle on usability evaluation and understanding.

This should help people as they evaluate their own products (desktop or web) and understand the ease of use of their products for the average user – and also understand to evaluate the usability with respect to not just the initial reaction to the product, but to also from the perspective of the returning users and the utility that they are able to find or difficulties they experience or common/frequent mistakes they make in their product interactions.

Good work – and hope it opens a new perspective of creativity in product usability evaluation that other people may not have been too familiar with.

[Signature removed – Tony]

Ramibotros [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

great article! i agree rather with philipp.. i dun wanna c a picture that will remind me of a real life folder -> and thus remind of a place to store file ..
i will think much faster if it's a sign i knw by heart , that's similar in representations in various i use in my life (pc , mobile , etc..)
Our reactions are faster than our interpretations.

James Xuan [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

^^^
[put at-character here]Jeremy
Why does everyone have to plug themselves?

[Signature removed – Tony]

hebbet [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

There are hard differences between the first and the latest, but I don't like the latest. Number 3 and 4 are the best

Satan [PersonRank 6]

12 years ago #

Stop worrying about icons! Investigate 9/11!!! Building Number 7!!! Bush did it!

Just kidding. Seriously though, this whole icon thing is the real conspiracy. All of this time I thought that having a sexy user interface was cool, but really I was only fooling myself. I should have been looking at the big picture. Icons being recognizable under bizarre conditions and Chinese characters are the real focal points.

I'll make this simple for you, guys... pretty icons = pretty girls. Pixelated icons = weirdo nerdy chicks. Unless you're gay, in which case it's up in the air. Anyway, I know that sounds as abstract as the icons Phillip wrote about, but it's the honest-to-flying-spaghetti-monster-truth.

For your sakes, I hope you understand what I'm getting at. Satan loves you.

you [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

hm.... nice like it, but dont really care. anyways, nice site!

Andy Wong [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Yes, agree. Beautiful and realistic icons need more of your brain power to process in order to recognize it with abstraction.

The conspiracy is, the sexy icons are for slowing you down and making you feel good, then you fall into love with Windows Vista or whatever sexy. MS will love you too.

Zim [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Some time ago I thought about something like a tagging FS... but I don't know how to make a FS (and it's not that easy).
I'm sure it will appear in a near future!!

Lim Chee Aun [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Isn't it that those icons are designed due to restrained color depth support? Like, older OS supports less color, so it's too hard to design 32-bit realistic icons. Now, there are great graphic cards out there, icons designers don't have get stuck under 2-bit or 8-bit designs.

Joseph [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Interesting post, but I'm not sure I get the point. First, to nitpick, I'm pretty sure that's the chinese character for mountain, not hill. But more importantly, don't idealized yet realistic images of mountains or trash cans allow for even faster/easier recognition? I think so, and I believe that would apply to both the chinese writinig system and to OS desktop icons. The more important reason for not using realistic pictures in writing systems like Chinese is not because they would inhibit the act of recognition, but because they would inhibit the act of writing. It would take an absurd amount of time and skill for a person to write/draw even a single character. But today's computers don't have any trouble at all drawing detailed garbage cans.

Satan [PersonRank 6]

12 years ago #

[put at-character here]Andy Wong – "The conspiracy is, the sexy icons are for slowing you down and making you feel good"

No, that's drugs you're thinking of there. Drugs.

Don't you want it all, though? The girls, the drugs, and the sexy icons? I genuinely think it's a package deal.

Sein Lin [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

So, when XP SP3 and Vista SP1 are released, Microsoft will replace all fanciful icons with 2 bit icons way back from Windows 95. Would you ever use Windows at all now that icons give you easier recognition?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Sein Lin: that would mean the grammar of the operating system hasn't advanced since then. Let me rephrase the question: would I like to use a system which understood that its metaphors can create a language, the grammar of which we can learn to speak fluently and almost subconsciously? And what would such a system look like, if perfected over time? How would we go about copying folders, selecting files, uninstalling software, starting a program, finding a lost document?

Maybe some think it's sexy if uninstalling a program takes around 2 minutes but the whole process looks good along the way. But I consider it more "sexy" to get this task done quickly, almost without thinking, or effort, to then do the stuff that I'm really interested in. And I'm not interested in the computer itself. Ideally, I want to forget I'm using it, just as I don't consciously focus on the edges of fonts when reading a book, or focus on the keyboard while typing, or focus on my feet while walking.

Bill Mac [PersonRank 9]

12 years ago #

Philipp, I totally agree with you. I want the barrier between me and what I'm trying to accomplish to be as negligible as possible. If I'm raking concrete, I don't want to have to be consciously aware of using a rake; I want the rake to be an extension of my body so I can get the work done without the overhead of keeping operating principles in "main memory". A rake is simple, of course, and concrete is not code, but in both cases we need a tool to get something done. We're more interested in getting something done than the tool we use to do it.

On occasion when I'm up late coding, I've reached a point where I wish I was at all times. It almost feels like I'm not even using my hands. Just the thoughts of moving text around inside my editor seems to accomplish this. (I know it's not the case, it just seems like it after 14 hours of coding and 11 large coffees.) I think I'll sign up for one of those neural implant trials and see if they can't wire me directly to vi.

David Mulder [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

windows-icons.com/history.htm

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Great link David. I was looking for something like this.

Satan [PersonRank 6]

12 years ago #

Philipp – In your comment above, you infer that we can't have the best of all worlds: computing speed (uninstalling that program in two seconds as opposed to two minutes), effortless comprehension of symbols, and beautiful interface. With the exception of speed, I would argue that we're already there.

When was the last time you had to pause and think about what an icon in your operating system meant? Besides, don't we just subconsciously memorize where they are anyway?

It's a bit of a stretch to assume that what applies in design readable street signs where weather and distance are factors also applies to icons 20cm from your face.

If sharpening the distinction of icons truly did improve recognition times and made me more efficient, I would gladly pay the cost of reducing the sexy-factor. But I don't think this is the case, so I'd like to keep my super-model .ICOs.

James Xuan [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

They have an internet connection in hell? Phew!

Satan [PersonRank 6]

12 years ago #

James – If you think about it, it was I (not Al Gore) that created the Internet. The Internet is banned in heaven... Something about too much free speech, critical / objective thinking, and P2P porn (the good guys want you to have to pay for your porn). I did just get off the phone with Jesus, however, and he says he totally agrees with Philipp on the icon thing.

James Xuan [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Cool, i'll have to kill someone to guarantee access when I pass on...any volunteers?

Martin Porcheron [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

<<Bring on file tagging!>> && <<Google OS will use labels>>

Vista has tags and folders. Which is the correct way to go, you can have tags/labels to identify stuff and folders to separate stuff (like System Files and Personal Files).

Sadly, you don't seem to have a way to view all tags in a cloud, and view their contents unless you search for "tag:tagname".

David Andersson [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

[put at-character here]Satan
I don't agree that icons are a solved problem.

I see this magnifying glass that means search in one app, and binoculars to mean search in another app. And one app where magnifier means zoom and another where magnifiers are both zoom and search. Somtimes a yellow star is favourite and simetimes it is create new something. Sometimes a folder means folder and sometimes it means open. How do I see the difference between a scanner and a modem when the icons are small...

No, icons havn't settled yet.

And the traffic sign analogy has some validity. (Thou we also want "pretty" :-)

Satan [PersonRank 6]

12 years ago #

[put at-character here]David

I get your point with coherent meanings for signs in programs, and I agree with it in principle. It might even be something worth looking into, but I also don't think that it makes much of a difference.

For example, maybe you would gain X number of nanoseconds per operation where interfacing with the modem icon versus the scanner icon and making your choice between the two (mind you 9.9 times out of 10 the icon would be accompanied by text). In the end, sure, I would LOVE to have those extra nanoseconds! Just not at the price of my beautiful icons.

I'm all for computer interfaces to save me time by talking to my brain directly through unique symbol, though!

[put at-character here]James Xuan

No worries; you're already set to come to hell anyway. If you kill someone now, it will only be for fun! Can't wait to see you, buddy.

Future Converged [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

Please, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and all the rest of you, please reduce our required mental load to deal with all of this digital content thrown at us. It is getting worst by the minute and we end up having more and more content to consume. You are right, there has to be a limit to functionality and not just beauty. The next thing is about psychology and we just want to survive the on onslaught of digital reality .... its just around the corner now ...

Cheers to productivity and efficiency everyone ...

sbt [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

anyone who's tried creating icons from larger images knows multiple edits are needed, not just shrink and crop. notice the reverse in the img: the enlarged icons don't look "right" when too large/zoomed.
in the case of vista icons, i think ms designed icons assuming larger (and lcd) displays than xp (17"[put at-character here]1024xwhatever), certainly larger than or 98/2k (15" @800x600)
imo, vista icons are washed-out and less distinct than xp's (but i also recall complaints that xp theme was too 'candy'.) overall i've always preferred "classic" mode for explorer and so far xp's icon design seem best.

AFAIK, as of now, ms has not improved icon system in ways they should have long ago:
More states
Ability to overlay states generically (by icon overlay i mean e.g., the "shortcut"/LNK arrow) Similarly icons need a systematic type of "familial" differentiation, which would occur for any exe, its folder, and its associated datafile (eg, notepad.exe vs *.txt file)
More flexible system to designate "special" (shell) folders. (including envir. vars, paths, etc)
These are recurring annoyances.

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