No one knows that the floppy disk means save. At least, that’s what the campus librarian insisted when she reviewed the website I worked on for her university. I had done research on just this issue, proving college students could identify what the floppy disk meant, but it wasn’t enough. New students are always coming in, she said, much younger than the ones I polled. So I went back and surveyed 526 high schoolers to find out definitively: Do teenagers understand the outdated tech in our icons? The survey says yes. But beyond answering her question, I learned a lot of other interesting things from this exercise.
We often think of icons as the designers’ domain, but when they are accompanied by words or replacing words, they become ours.
Some of what we’ll cover:
- Visual language builds off metaphors from the past, just like spoken language
- Users don’t always need to know an icon’s origin — context can help them
- Teenagers are and aren’t as dumb as you think