Intermediate results of the icon tests: Elementary

With a series of icon tests we currently study effects on the usability of icon design. This article however does not focus on these general design effects but presents findings specific to the Elementary icon set.


The introduction of the new Breeze icon set in KDE let us again wonder, what aspects of an icon set actually takes what impact on the usability of it. We investigated Oxygen and Tango Icons for the LibreOffice project before, but our focus then was on checking all icons of the standard tool bar. This time we focus on different icon sets and will use 13 common actions to compare them.

With this series we are going to test at least 10 different free icon sets: Breeze, Oxygen, Tango, Faenza, Nuvola, Nitrux, Elementary, Crystal Project, Humanity and Treepata. These icon sets differ on various aspects: use of color and details, flat or not and sometimes even on the metaphor used.

So, we generally want to analyze effects of icon design on the overall performance of an icon set. Statistics on this issue can obviously only be done after all icon sets have been tested. But with every test, we win some specific insights in strengths and weaknesses of each icon set tested.

In this post we share some findings about the Elementary icon set.

The study was finished by 528 participants (drop-out rate 5%) with an average handling time of 1:50 min.

Results of Elementary icons

Table 1 lists the aggregated quality indicators. They show how well all icons that we used for the test were suited to symbolize the different terms. It has a range from 1 (no fit) to 10 (perfect fit), whereas you would expect values of at least 9 for well represented terms.

Table 1: Quality of the icon set for different terms based on assignment ratio (percentage of missing assignments) and conspicuity (or speed of picking icons).
TermQuality Indicator

Table 2 shows a cross-table with the percentage of false associations. These are terms where the intended icon was not chosen by the users, but some other icon was.



Some icons of the Elementary icon set are obviously taken from the Tango project (e.g. Cut, Paste, Link). In general it seems to be an enhancement of the Tango project but actually performs slightly worse than Tango.

Most obvious finding is the not working icon for Save – way to many people did not associate any icon. But this might be a non-finding, as there might be a better icon for Save in the set. Unfortunately the set (as we used it) did not follow conventions here, so we had to make a good guess.

Apart from this we get the – by now expected – mix up of Copy and Paste. Also Add and New get confused to a larger amount. On the positive side: the set shows the shortest response times so far (yes, we will treat the order of the tests and hence possible learning effects as co-variables for the analysis).

If you know how to design icons and would like to help us to identify metaphors that work better, please contact us. Also, all raw results are publicly available on our open usability platform UserWeave.

As mentioned before: These results only reflect the internal quality of the Elementary icon set. The final interpretation will be done after all sets have been tested. So stay tuned and please participate in our follow-up tests. And, of course, feel free to discuss these findings with us.

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