Google released 750 new icons for phones and tablets that will undoubtedly take over the world. They’re free for anyone to use.
(Click above for a larger image of a some of them.) Cory Doctorow thinks this move by Google is great, and one disagrees with Cory at one’s peril since he’s usually right.
I suppose it’s language-independent and transnational. I can’t help but think, though, that the task of memorizing the meanings for these pictures will be akin to learning Chinese.
Wasn’t the move from pictograms to the alphabet supposed to be a triumph of civilization?
Why would they make the same icon have two meanings? Credit card is the same as payment; settings input component is the same as settings input composite.
Why would they make the same meaning have two icons? Wallet has two icons.
Why would they make the same icon have two meanings, one of which has two icons? Redeem is the same as one of the two wallets.
It really does look as if learning them is like learning a natural language…
Many of these icons look the same, or at least extremely similar, to commonly used symbols for the attached meaning. It’s possible that the overlap in icon meaning is a feature not a bug. In other words, it seems like Google is attempting to purposefully incorporate existing imagery into the set, which would explain doubled meanings for some icons and multiple icons for the same meaning.
And “query builder” is the same as “schedule,” both of which are clocks. What query building has to do with clocks is anyone’s guess.
But one problem is same icons that are potentially at odds with each other. “History” and “restore,” for example. What if am looking to see my history, but restore things instead? This is potentially dangerous (in the screw up your data sense).
Finally there is the problem of icons that have implications attached. “Backup,” for example, clearly implies cloud backups. As a backup, and a cloud backup are completely independent things, and plenty of people use one, without the other (or both, separately), this is potentially misleading or confusing.
An icon, should have a single meaning, and that meaning should be clear in total. The reason that pictographic languages can be understood more easily than assumed by people who don’t know is that the elements in them ARE pictures (albeit stylized), and can be learned at an elemental level to better understand the full pictograph. Many pictographs are combinations of common pictographs, so understanding the common ones, and the logic behind the word, aids in understanding the full pictograph (it’s not simply by rote memorization, as assumed in the West). Google’s icons should work the same way: Each of the time-related ones should have a clock, plus ancillary figures to denote the particular time-related function. That would make MORE sense and be more easily learned.
Although, obviously, there is a lot of difficulty in the creation of icons to cross cultural, age, technological, etc. barriers cleanly. But whatever else is true, icons should NOT be repeated for different functions.