This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Understanding icons

One of the most annoying things about using a digital device such as a computer, cell phone, etc. is the use of "icons". Icons are the little tiny drawings of things that are used in place of telling you what it really means.

I'm sure you've seen them on your cell phone. A little icon appears that looks like a square frog sticking its tongue out for a fly, and it means that you have a message, or missed a call, or something. And while there is always room to write "Powered by Verizon", there never seems to be enough room to write "missed call". As in the case of all bad design, I'm sure they meant well.

When the design is really, really bad, as in the case of ebay, pictured at left, they provide you with some kind of a "cheat sheet", here called an "Icon Legend". Makes it sound kind of important, doesn't it? So, for your convenience, instead of writing "Classified ad Format", they show you a picture of what appears to be an elephant with four eyes. And instead of "Relisted" it shows what appears to be a fish swimming past the bait. I'm not much for fishing, so I'm not sure.

The bad news is that icons like this are here to stay. And the really bad news is that they are always different on different devices and difference software. So once you realize that the star on the trampoline means something somewhere, it will probably mean something different elsewhere.

The good news is that you can create your own "cheat sheet". Personally, I have to deal with lots and lots of icons, but you probably only have your cell phone, your browser, and a few other things. So take a few minutes, like this on a quiet Saturday morning, visit the web sites of these places and do a screen capture like this one. Save it on your computer and refer back to it. Yeah, it's awful, but it's better than trying to figure out all of this stuff and remember it.

I don't know why they do this stuff, but they do.