Friday, December 11, 2009

Disk Icons

Something else that occurred to me teaching computers recently: Applications still use a picture of a floppy disk to indicate the "save" operation. (See the top of the MS Office Ribbon, in the last post.) This in an era when some of my college students have, apparently, never actually seen a floppy disk. I realized working with some of my students at the end of the semester that this icon doesn't have any intrinsic meaning to them. What to replace it with?


  1. I doubt there is a good alternative. Perhaps a flash drive? But most saving is done to an internal drive, which is invisible.

    I think it likely that the icon will remain as is due to inertia. It may be our first iconic equivalent of an idiom! (The pertinent property of an idiom here is that its meaning was once clear, but now it it not.)

  2. I wouldn't say internal drives are invisible. I mean, you can't see them, but that's just because they're down inside the computer. Open up your computer and you can see them. They look like this:

    In Windows, they are represented like this:

    How about a picture of a hard drive (like the icon used in Windows) with an arrow pointing down into it, as though the data is being placed onto the drive. And then "load" would be an arrow pointing up away from the drive, as though the data is being read off of it. The arrows I'm picturing are sort of like the commit/update arrows used in TortoiseSVN:

  3. The Icon Naming Specification [1] describes the icon for document-save as "an arrow pointing down and toward a hard disk." The Tango Icon Library [2] implements this as such.