Wednesday April 24th, 2013 by Björn Balazs and Heiko Tietze
What has happened before
Metaphors are the basis of any good icon design. For instance, scissors are used to cut something and this metaphor fits perfect for the respective computer function. On the other hand, it is rather difficult to associate a filing cabinet, for example, with the function Save.
There are different ways for improving the usability of a specific function and its respective icon. Depending on the problem one might change the label, change the icon to be more obvious or change the underlying metaphor altogether.
As we compiled the results of our last study, it became apparent that some metaphors of Libreoffice’ standard toolbar do not work in their intended way. Our next step is to prepare new icons based on stronger associations between the underlying function and its graphical representation.
What we plan to do
As a starting point we selected the functions that have room for improvement and investigated alternative metaphors user could associate with these functions. We tried to be creative in our vantage points and also incorporated some of the ideas you had when you commented on our previous articles.
We selected ten functions, that need improvement and created a few alternative metaphors for each of these functions. These are partly from the original, natural pendants of these functions, partly from associations found in cultural and historical contexts and partly from connotations we had for the word, i.e. the function itself.
The function undo could for instance be represented by the metaphor ‘correction fluid’, because both the function and the metaphor erase the last written words. Of course, undo does more than that, but the core functionality might be better represented than with the depiction of a clipboard as it is today.
The metaphors we are searching for do not have to be perfect. We are rather in brainstorming mode and ask for your support, because everyone will have different things in mind when hearing about a certain function. Additionally we want to compare as many different solutions as possible. Also we need some distractors in between to evaluate the strength of the association.
The ten selected functions with their original metaphor in LibreOffice Writer and some examples of the metaphors we created are listed below.
We need you!
Every function should have at least four good alternatives. This is where you come into play. Please help us to improve the study with your ideas for alternative metaphors. These can be quite diverse and from different contexts. So every input is appreciated.
Once we have found sufficient metaphors for each of these functions we need to create icons to these metaphors that fit in one icon set. And at this point we need your assistance again since we are not designers but usability experts. Icons should be redesigned to not have any biases because of the color, style, etc. It does not need to have a really fancy design with 3D effects or the like. But the layout must not influence users decision which one to choose in the upcoming test.
In this final study we will present these icons and users decide which of the icons / metaphors is fitting best to the function. This way we hope to find unambiguous metaphors that solve the mix-ups from the LibreOffice study and that most likely can also be found in other applications.
Can you think of other metaphors for these functions? Do you have any suggestions concerning our approach? If you are a designer, or know one, who would like to help us in creating these test icons, please contact us.