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International/Universal Icons

Iago (in another thread) wrote>> or if the "mail" icon is a picture of an American mailbox with, for some incomprehensible reason, a little red flag on the side.

Which has me wondering - Is there an international set of icons for seemingly standard ideas like 'mail'?  Considering the differences between even simple real-world things (like payphones and mailboxes), can this even exist?
RocketJeff Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
I suppose you could consider what are international, like envelopes.  That is how I use my mail icons, with the addition of a plus sign or X to signify add, delete, etc.

Having the envelope open or closed means a read or unread one.

Just some thoughts
Nick Koranda Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Sometimes trying to "internationalize" an applications graphics reduces usability.  For example, some applications tried using a stack of coins as an icon for currency.  This took people much longer to figure out than a simple dollar sign in locales with dollars, or pound sign, or yen sign.

Sometimes it's just better to be locale-specific.
Peter Ritchie Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
"For example, some applications tried using a stack of coins as an icon for currency.  This took people much longer to figure out than a simple dollar sign in locales with dollars, or pound sign, or yen sign."

That's logical, as coin stacks have nothing to do with the term "currency". They have to do with the term "money", but this is something different altogether.
Berislav Lopac Send private email
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 
Unless your tools are really, really basic, you're going to have a hard time just coming up with icons that are intuitive to all US-based users, let along all international users.

Icons are good if they are distinctive and memorable for users who have been introduced to the features they expose.  Bonus points if they can guess the feature before they wave their mouse over the tool to see its tool tip (you do have tool tips, right?).

Icons are likely to be more memorable if they are map to a picture or a concept that a user is familiar with.  The dollar sign vs. yen sign or whatever is a great example.  The currency signs will generally be easier to render distinctively as an icon (as opposed to a stack of coins, which will be "busier" and less recognizable).  In this case, coins probably score ok on "memorable", but less well on "distinctive" or "recognizable".

Users will be able to spot their local currency sign pretty quickly, and guess that it has something to do with money.  This is all you can really hope for from a toolbar icon. 

There are plenty of cases where icons became icons not because they are intrinsically perfect pictures, but because they were very recognizable and simply became associated with the functions they represented.  Take the "back" button, for instance.  If you didn't know anything about browsers, it would be pretty easy to imagine this button as "pan left".  Nevertheless, it has become nearly univeral, and is now quite effective as a 16x16 icon with no additional text (except for tooltip).

Open up some apps - I'll bet you will find some icons that you don't recognize.  Alan Cooper covers this in some detail (I think in About Face).
D Lambert
Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
 

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