Friday August 22nd, 2014 by Björn Balazs and Heiko Tietze
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 Faenza icon set.
The study was finished by 489 participants (drop-out rate 6%) with an average handling time of 3:44 min.
Results of Faenza 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).
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.
Table 2: Cross-table of icons and terms with percentage of false associations. The direct match is inverted (1-value, e.g. 0.93 for Add) to obtain comparable data.
The tested Faenza icons show some severe issues. Quite a lot of icons are not or are wrongly associated with values above 10% (Redo, Copy) and even 20% (New, Open, Save, and Paste). In general the tested Faenza icons were associated wrongly with a higher degree compared to other sets. Especially Save and Open and to a lesser extend Paste show comparably bad values in the quality indicator. This result is seconded by the significantly longer total time it took participants to finish the survey.
With these results we can again see that it might not be such a good idea to try to establish new metaphors (as Faenza does for Open and esp. for Save). This goes hand in hand with our previous findings. Also the Paste icon – which symbolizes an important action – again fails. Here the need for a new metaphor seems to be most urgent, as Faenza uses the standard clipboard metaphor and this has failed before.
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 Faenza 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.