I have perused questions about icons becoming outdated. I think the problem is that they usually derive from a physical object rather than the action involved (noun instead of verb). Even the spelling of words can change over time, to say nothing of pronunciations and different languages overall...

Has there been useful research with conclusions about:

  1. Designing icons that do not depict outdated (or soon to be) objects.
  2. Icons that are valid across cultures and time - not based on words.
  3. How many icons people can see and respond to at once (eg: the Ribbon).
  4. Making icons that would be translatable to blind people (this is less important to me, but seems like a consideration).

Yes, it looks like 4 different questions, but really, I am trying to get at the "essence" of what an icon is, apart from what culture it derives from. Please consider these as angles of a single question.

Why this is important to me: If software can be used by people around the world with different languages, and everyone knows (or can be shown) what the "Save" button means, then there is an underlying - wordless - understanding. I would call this "right-brain" knowledge. I think that left-brain methods, concepts and ways of communicating are far overused, at the expense of the faster and more powerful (for some purposes) right side skills. I would like to help move toward using more of the "brain" / human capacity in a more natural way. Thank you.

  • This isn't a very clear question. It's more of a discussion topic rather than a Q/A. Yes, when possible, icons should represent action. Verbs tend to be more abstract than objects, however, so objects are often more identifiable as icons.
    – DA01
    Mar 23 '15 at 16:01
  • Interesting statement, but for example Japanese used chinese ideograms but they adapted and simplyfied them, the simpler form katakana is a phonetic writing. - The Korean Hangul is also a phonetic alphabet that was invented becouse the dificulty of using Chinese writing, so they used it some time and discarded it later. I think a form of writing has to do with a great number of factors, not just on the writing itself.
    – Rafael
    Mar 23 '15 at 16:11
  • If an icon is outdated depends on the icon, the idea or reference behind it, the cultural and historical context and in this digital era on the technological context. Yes, a 3.5" disc is an outdated form of saying "save". A folder reference is still referencing a paper one. But is a better alternative than a chinese character or the word "folder". The word "Folder" is a thing that can be folded. So where do we stop in referencing the root of an icon?
    – Rafael
    Mar 23 '15 at 16:20
  • My point is to base the symbol on something that will not change. Words and pronunciations change over time (old English to Middle to modern for example) so writing down sounds is doomed. The only symbol that will not become outdated is one that is completely arbitrary and has no relation to anything at all. The problem then, as someone else has said here, is simply one of standardization. But, in the USA here, the change to Metric never happened... Incredible. And I constantly have to tell people who are cooking how many cups in a quart, etc. They don't even know their own familiar system!
    – user41216
    Mar 23 '15 at 16:20
  • I'm am not sure what is "arbitrary and has no relation to anything at all" Probably mathemathics but its writing form it is not completley standarized... Take a look at the movie "Contact"?
    – Rafael
    Mar 23 '15 at 16:25

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