Importance of Icons
Why are icons so important? Is it necessary to effectively communicate an idea in the most simple way possible? Well, as somebody who lives in a house with 11 other guys, if we want to be efficient than we need things to be simple. As all of us started to individually move into the house we needed to figure out all of our appliances. From the rice cooker to the laundry and the printer. With 12 different people, things like laundry become a much more daunting task.
As we all had to learn our new appliances around the house the recognition of icons made things much simpler. As I started to look for icons around our house, I saw many different variations.
I first looked at my printer. Our house has a mix of working professionals, and students. The printer is used often and so these icons needed to be clear and understandable. From left to right the icons represent the fax, scan and copy functionality of the printer. The fax ability has been represented by a skeuomorphic design by representing what a fax machine looks like as a physical object. Even though most of us are in our 20’s and have never really seen a fax machine, we still understand this representation because of some exposure.
The scan icon is very clear because the icon is a direct representation of the process of scanning an item. We all know how to scan and this helps us to easily identify the purpose of this button. Now the copy button is the most obscure of the three, there is no skeuomorphism and it doesn’t represent the action with arrows. However, because of our exposure to other forms of printers and documentation programs that use similar icons, we all understand that this represents the ability to make copies.
The printer was very effective in communicating the functionality to the user. The icons are clear and even though they are small the information isn’t obscured. They kept the design simple with only a black and white outline. This allows almost anybody to easily identify each function. The laundry machine that we have also communicated clearly each purpose.
The three icons that I chose with the laundry also use simple design by using only a few lines, no color, and no complex shapes. The first image is the door lock function. This is clearly communicated with the shape of the door and a lock. You really don’t have to question the purpose, especially with the inclusion of the lock as an icon that is understood by almost all people. The second icon is used by all different types of industries. This is a very common icon to represent silencing a product. From the computer to your phone, this icon has been deeply ingrained in peoples minds. The third icon takes some understanding of the laundry in order to know that this represents a spin cycle. Similar to the copy icon on the printer, this may be a more obscure concept but the laundry machine was able to use a commonly used icon from spinning to effectively communicate it’s purpose.
Two more commonly used appliances in my house are the fridge and rice cooker. Their icons are simple and iconic by using minimal lines, low detail and they display only the important information.
This icon indicates exactly what the purpose of this button is. There are simplified images of ice, something that would be able to be understood by many different people. As I was writing this article one friend saw this image and immediately asked me if that was from the fridge. The recognition is quick and the recognition is uncomplicated.
The last icon is a little different in that it two buttons with three different icons. There is no text required but the main icon is able to group two buttons together for the user.
Using both a commonly understood plus and minus symbol along with a clock symbol, this rice cooker is able to convey a timer function relatively straightforward. There is no reading required so it would be undemanding for most users.
Icons for appliances need to be straightforward in order to be effective for the average user. For somebody that lives in a house with so many people ease of use is essential. We all have to live with each other and it’s important to make things simple so there is little confusion. The icons that I was able to find around my house were very helpful in understanding the necessity of icons. On top of just understanding icons, here are some of the sketches that I made to recreate them.
I noticed that despite being for different products the line weight and scale were all relatively similar. The printer used dark fills to create a more solid object and the washer and fridge used white outlines with a black background. The two were reversed in design style while still keeping similar looks. This gives a good idea that design is able to convey very similar ideas while keeping similar style guides. There is no reason to try and go out of the ordinary if the simple common design is more direct.