There have been a lot of talks around the well-known Save icon. Every now and then another article about kids not knowing what a floppy disk is pops up in my news feed. The point of these articles is that using a floppy as a Save icon is no longer relevant, so we need to immediately change it. But do we really?
I keep track of the icons that everybody suggests to replace it with, but I haven’t yet come across one that would look better than the floppy disk.
Honestly, a floppy disk may be the ideal object for an icon, and here is why:
- It has a recognisable shape;
- It’s square, which means it perfectly fits into an icon grid;
- It doesn’t have any tiny details so it’s distinctive even in small sizes;
- Everybody knows its meaning already. Kids may not understand what that is, but they do know what that icon stands for;
- It means only one thing – save. Unlike some other icons such as a magnifying glass that can mean both ‘search’ and ‘zoom’.
So why change it?
If you look carefully at your desktop screen, you will notice a bunch of other antique symbols. I mean, do you remember the last time you used an actual magnifying glass? And do kids really know what that strange curvy thing we press to call somebody on a smartphone is?
My daughter just asked why we say “hang up” the phone and now I feel 90.
— Jason English (@EnglishJason) June 2, 2015
A Settings gear, folders, etc. There are tons of objects you would rarely see in the real world these days. But they still make great icons. People learn icon meanings, and it’s easy to remember the meaning of such widely spread icons. Icons are a universal visual language. Language people learn and understand. And still the Save icon was created using an old and outdated floppy disk. It has been so widely used that this symbol alone is communicating the message perfectly and the physical object isn’t even important anymore.
The primary purpose of an icon is to be easy recognisable and deliver the right message. So I think we should stop fixing things that are not broken and focus on the main thing – great user experience.
This, though, doesn’t mean that all the icons are great and you shouldn’t be looking for the ways to make them better. For instance, a funnel as the filter icon. It’s another real world object, but this time I can speak from my experience – a lot of people have no idea what this icon should mean. And as Louie Mantia put it: “It’s a classic icon design problem. Since it is not that widely used as save icon – people haven’t learned its meaning. But this also means that it could be redesigned. Differently from the save icon which is deeply embedded in peoples minds”.
Check out some of Louie Mantia explorations of how it can be improved.
Pst! Louie is a great icon designer, you should give him a follow too!
What is the future of the floppy disk icon?
I’m not saying it will or should never be replaced. Things change. But I believe that it won’t happen any time soon. More likely, it will disappear rather than be replaced, because more and more softwares are focusing on removing this feature and saving documents and files automatically. However, the manual clicking on that Save button still gives you the feel of certainty that the file will be saved.
So.. Long Live the Save Icon!