Icons and UX


The icons are given meaning by the user, in regard to the task they’re carrying out at the moment.

Icons are like abstract paintings. They get different meanings for different people. It’s all through the eyes of an observer. And that ambiguity is really exciting with art. But not so much in user interfaces.

Abstract art. Painting.
Abstract art. Painting.

What’s the icon for offline downloads? It could be a folder, star,  heart, down arrow. Or even a profile icon. It’s very hard to rule out any one icon.


When icons are used to save space, things go wrong. Icons should not be used in that way. To a designer of tight mobile interfaces, using an icon to save space is really compelling. At first glance, the interface looks so clean and tidy!

However, for the user it’s usually the second glance that counts. The one where they look at the icon when they are carrying out a task.

Icons + labels = Happy users

If you label icons, they suddenly become awesome, accessible and understandable. An icon with a label:

  • makes it easier for the user to find the most important features – the ones with icons.
  • makes it easier to remember where you clicked the next time you come back.
  • makes the interface more aesthetically pleasing than if there were just text buttons.

A text and icon combination also improves the experience for people who have a hard time reading, like many users with dyslexia, autism, aphasia or other reading impairments.

This article first appeared in Axess Labs 30 August 2017



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