The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Icons, Wayfinding and Semiotics

– March 29th, 2004 –

Users don’t read. I’m not just talking about web users either. Ever spent more than 1 second reading a road sign? Ever spent more than 1 second reading a direction sign in a public building? Ever spent more than 1 second trying to use a websites navigation? That’s my point.

Designers for the web need to look more at systems design, semiotics and wayfinding for cues for their interfaces.

Take iconography for example. Iconography, especially in computing, has arrisin with the advent of more complex GUI’s, BUT it has risen primarily because of a series of common tasks which need to be illustrated in some ‘real world’ way.

IconsThis Image shows a number of icons displayed which show a number of common tasks. As you can see the design of these icons vary, but only subtly. There are some in each set which ‘feel’ right however, these are the successful icons which tap into the unconsious cues associated with semiotics. I question icon design and it’s validity within design. My experience of ‘icon’ design (and i’m not talking branding or logotypes here, just icons) is thay are a) Are not thought about in enough detail b) They are almost always decorational, therefore their function is often secondary to how they look. c) Most icons are so badly designed they need words with them in order to decifer their meaning. Not good.

Here’s a good essay on iconography and semiotics. Have a read, it makes a lot of sense.

Talking of system icon design, this is a great resource for comparing operating systems and their iconography.

Probably more on this later, when i’ve thought a bit more about it.

Filed in: design, information-architecture.

Further reading