May 24, 2012

"What happens when all the things we based our icons on don't exist anymore?"

"Do they just become, ahem, iconic glyphs whose origins are shrouded in mystery?"

"When is the last time you stared at an hourglass while waiting for something?"

ADDED: A commenter, at the second link, answers the question: "Last time I played Boggle (real-life, shake-up-the-cube Boggle, not some online facsimile)."

I would have said: Last time I watched "The Wizard of Oz," and the "something" I was waiting for was: Dorothy to die.


Chip S. said...

Hourglass? Hmph.

Pinwheels forever!

edutcher said...

Interesting point, but the hourglass still exists, although it wasn't used for its original purpose the the icon was created.

PS Lots of guys stare at hourglasses waiting for something to happen.

Usually, the word, "Yes", followed by a removal of superfluous garments.

bagoh20 said...

I bet there are a good number of people today that if handed an hourglass, could not tell you how it was used.

Chip S. said...

Do they put it on its side?

Rliyen said...

Playing a game called Dragon's Gold. The timer's the limit for discussion on how the players who killed the dragon split the loot. If no compromise is reached, no one gets the goods.

Patrick said...

I make my kids use the hourglass when they brush their teeth.

It's funny though, I never really think about how outdated some of those icons are - especially the floppy disc icon to save docs.

Anonymous said...

These complaints about outdated metaphors are really getting to be a broken record.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I changed my hourglass icon to a dinosaur.

You can make it do the moonwalk while you wait.

TWM said...

Kids know what hourglasses are if for no other reason that many fantasy movies include them - Harry Potter for example.

Floppy disks? Not so much I suppose.

Paddy O said...

Are there icons we use that lost their meaning before our time?

The cross is one. It represents Christianity now, but would have had an entirely different connotation to a Roman citizen.

The hourglass would probably also be an example. It's not like people used hourglasses in the 20th century either.

I can't think of others offhand but I bet they exist.

Peter said...

Mostly people define the metaphor in terms of its current meaning.

Thus, "cut-and-paste" brings to mind not a paste pot, scissors and paper but the operation as it is performed on a computer.

And so on with the other symbols. A few may be interested in the origins of the symbol, but (as with word etymologies) most do not care.

Joe said...

Most icons have no intrinsic meaning. They are simply symbols. Even with meaning, people actually stop paying conscious attention to them fairly quickly.

A big mistake designers make is assuming an icon must fully represent the action, but most actions are abstract. What matters more is that the icon be reasonable and consistent. (Having something requiring action use an icon resembling a red square would be bad.)

Look at your browser. The left arrow means left, not back, yet we readily accept it as back in that context.

When helping someone, it does help to have icons that can be put into words. "Left arrow" is easier than "That boxy thing with little down arrows lines above it. No, the other one without the line." (Guess the icon and you get a prize.)

gerry said...

Iconic obsolescense

Sigivald said...

People still use hourglasses to time toothbrushing, too, as Patrick said.

It's not actually a mystery, in the way a floppy disk is rapidly becoming one. (And good riddance.)

tim maguire said...

Other than Boggle, we use an hourglass to enforce turn-taking among the little ones. A turn last as long as the sand in the hour glass, and the one waiting turns it over to get the other one's turn started.

Works like a charm.

Scrutineer said...

When is the last time you stared at an hourglass while waiting for something?

Yesterday, when I boiled eggs. What do you astronauts use?

wyo sis said...

A teacher in one of our schools recently wanted to donate an old Kindergarten grade Bingo set with pictures instead of letters and numbers. It was surprising to note how many of the pictures are of technology that kids never see anymore. There were pictures of wall phones, cassette players, transistor radios, computers with tube monitors, reel to reel movie projectors and telephone dials. I was even surprised to see straw brooms, and string mops that are becoming more and more rare. I thought at the time that almost every one of those things has been replaced by small black plastic boxes. Kids think the record is a DVD.