Icons and the FOSS desktop
Jun 01, 2010, 15:01 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bruce Byfield)
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"Icons have always intimidated me. Except for the mouseover
help, two-thirds of the time I would have no idea what function
they represent. Shrink them so that they fit on a toolbar, and the
obscurity is compounded by illegibility. On the free and open
source software (FOSS) desktop, icons seem to be one of the last
holdouts against usability, with neither of the two main strategies
for designing icons being particularly successful.
"Admittedly, icons on the FOSS desktop have come a long way
since the early years of this century, when GNOME's logout button
looked like an illustration from Goodnight Moon, or possibly a sign
indicating an outhouse.
"That icon disappeared when the first usability study showed
that people had no idea what it indicated, to be replaced (more
sensibly) in many distributions with an open door and an arrow or a
person passing through it to suggest to leaving. Similarly, when I
open up the copy of OpenOffice.org that comes with Debian, I see
icons for font weights, alignment and indentation whose functions
are obvious at a glance. Other icons, such as the letters ABC above
a check mark for spellchecking, or binoculars for search, are less
immediately identifiable, but still more or less decipherable."