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We are writing an application for road construction management. Think of the guys that plan the lane expansion or road resurfacing that ruins your day. :)

All throughout the application, we have the concept of general actions that can be performed on the current data, like running reports, adding new data, editing data, etc. These actions are all contained within a dropdown menu that used to be represented by the word "Actions".

Now, however, we need to reduce it to an icon to save space and anxiety over seeing the word "Actions" repeated for each different piece of data on a particular page.

Therein lies the question, how does one design an "Actions" icon that needs to be domain-specific? By that I mean it cannot be a movie clapperboard or something else that might evoke the word "action."

We have currently settled on making an icon that doesn't mean anything, for instance a circle with three dots in it or something equally meaningless in this context. But that just guarantees that the customer will need to be trained on actions.

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Would your NDA allow you to share us all the actions the button will cover? That way we could try to figure out the lowest common denominator between them all. Also, are other buttons rather standardly styled or are they domain-specific? I mean, if the other buttons are rather standard, maybe "actions" should be too; e.g. think of a blue circle with a white exclamation mark in it—or just the icon you currently have, though ! is more action-y than . – koiyu Jul 3 '11 at 10:31
Well, I can tell you the actions are all text based; some examples include the simple CRUD-type operations: "Add New Project" or "Delete this Project"; others are more task-specific such as "Price this Item" or "Checkout this Proposal". Unfortunately for your question, the customer is also allowed to customize the wording and which actions appear in any given menu. – Andy Jul 4 '11 at 1:50
Why does it need to be domain-specific? – e100 Jul 15 '11 at 12:59
I can see how that seems like a strange requirement. Basically, we presented them with quite a few examples from other applications we know and love and they rejected each one. The only rationale I can give for that is our customer eats, sleeps, and breathes in this small, focused world. We have perhaps made things even worse by reinforcing other concepts for some of the other suggestions; for instance, our customer associates a pencil and paper with "Edit", a gear with "Settings," and a blue exclamation mark with "Information Message." – Andy Jul 17 '11 at 2:01

On the Mac, the action button is described by a gear icon....that might work well, as it is fairly generic and therefore covers a lot of possible actions.

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Especially with the recent changes in Google's interface, I think more and more people will associate the gear icon with "settings" instead of "actions." Thank you very much for the suggestion though! – Andy Jul 7 '11 at 1:43

If the "actions" mostly relate to data manipulation then perhaps a pencil writing on a notepad would connote "editing" in a sufficiently vague way. A Google image search for "spreadsheet icon" shows several apropos examples.

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How about fingers tying laces on a shoe? Hammer head hitting a nail? Key turning in ignition? Rocket launching? How about fingers flipping a light switch, or even just a light bulb?

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How about a plus?

enter image description here

or its variations...

enter image description here

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