More is worse: About Detail in Icons

A statistical analysis shows that icons with less detail score better in terms of usability.

It seems to be an easy truth: Too much detail in icons confuses the users. So we wondered whether we could find any evidence for this truth in the data of our large scale test of the LibreOffice Icons.

First we did an expert rating and sorted the icons in two groups, depending on the level of detail in the icon.

Group 1 – Low Detail Icons

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Group 2 – High Detail Icons

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Some Statistics

Next we did a plot of the ratings the icons in the different groups achieved. The higher the value, the better the icon (read about the methodology of testing icons):


It looks like the two groups are actually different – but to prove this, just looking is not enough, some calculations are needed. So we did a Mann-Whitney-U Test and the value Z=4.015 shows that these two groups are actually different on a significance level of p<0.001.

What do we learn from this?

Whenever you create icons, try to be as iconic as possible – or to phrase it differently: try to remove as much details from your icons as possible. It is likely that the quality of your icons will win.

More Information

As always you can find the raw results of the icon test in the LibreOffice Project on UserWeave. You are happily invited to make up your own mind and to discuss the results with us.

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