'Old people' icons: why do we still use them?

By , ITworld |  Software, floppy, icons

icons

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The save icon is a floppy disk, now gone for years. Carbon copy for emails, and reel to reel tapes for voice mail icons. Why do we still use these?

That was the rant from Scott Hanselman in "The Floppy Disk means Save, and 14 other old people Icons that don't make sense anymore." Stack Overflow mined the same territory almost three years ago in "Save icon: Sill a floppy disk?" Yes, it is, and a phone icon is still an old fashioned handset from a Ma Bell phone.

The larger question is how to define objects and sometimes abstract ideas non-verbally with icons. What cultural touchstones can we use? And if a floppy disk (really they show a 3.5 inch hard plastic "floppy" disk, not the old 5.25 inch real floppy disks) has outlived it's usefulness, what do we use instead? Or do young people who never used a mechanical push-button car dash radio really need to know that's where radio buttons came from?

You forgot one

I'm 32, and I'm not completely sure what an actual jar of paste is.
drewmclellan on news.ycombinator.com

...or road signs that still depict a steam train
Russ Sayers on hanselman.com

A TV with rabbit ears will always be a TV - perhaps a hundred years from now?
shanselman on news.ycombinator.com

I remember ...

yet again thank you for making me feel old, again.
Bartek Kurek on hanselman.com

* ...because they're called folders, and we know how to use them?* Historically they were called directories, which I would love to see a return to from the wrong and infantilizing "folders".
bitwize on news.ycombinator.com

A friend of mine has a 3 year old who recently got a toy phone. The child can actively use an ipad or smartphone, but didn't know what to do with the telephone toy, not even how to hold the receiver. Amazing!
P on hanselman.com

Design philosophy

Use a picture of Jesus. Because everybody knows that Jesus saves...
GalacticCowboy on stackoverflow.com

much of our iconography is really based on social contracts and we all have to eventually learn the meanings no matter what it is before a symbol becomes common place.
Kristy Tillman on hanselman.com

start out simple so the 'dumb users' can understand, and it sticks :)
Jared on stackoverflow.com

In a few decade, history teachers will display to young student some of those old physical artefact to show them the object of the ancient time that inspired the symbol in their software. Just like when my history teacher told us the origin of the word democracy when we talked about the ancient greek.
Laurent on hanselman.com

Are we giving younger people enough credit for knowing the origin of some icons? After all, Thomas the Tank Engine is a steam train, so that icon makes sense to people who grew up in the last twenty years.

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