Iconography – Where Are We Headed?


A little over a month ago I came across an interesting thread on Brenden Dawes’ Twitter stream on the lifespan of iconography that I thought warranted a longer post: Brenden asks:




These are very valid questions.

I think answer to the first question is that we’re not so much wed to familiar, analogue objects – they’re part of our iconographic DNA. We don’t have a say in the matter, we’re stuck with our analogue icons until our technology progresses far enough to render them obsolete, killing them off and forcing us to reference these extinct symbols through fossilized JPGs, GIFs and PNGs. Every generation is inherently transitional. What’s different with each successive generation are the specific things that are mutating, evolving, dying and spawning.

Horses to automobiles. Radio to television. Gas lighting to light bulbs. Even now, those previous three examples are could still be used be used as icons (the horse might come across a bit obscure and humorous, but I bet it would still work to convey ‘transportation’).

When we transition from one technology to another, this doesn’t mean the technology being replaced has run it’s course. Radio technology was invented in the late 1800’s but we still have it to this day (Hell, the Microsoft Zune still come equipped with FM tuners, god knows why). It is the reason the NPR iPhone app can use an old-fashioned radio to indicate their ‘radio’ programs and a radio tower to indicate their stations. We still understand what these things symbolize.


bottom row of icons on the NPR iPhone app

The bottom line is, for the time being, our icons of televisions, radios, cars, envelopes, paper pages and hardcover books are more than sufficient to represent their digital counterparts.

Beyond the Digital

Fine. As long as we have our living analogue ancestors around, our iconography can stay in place and mutate when some of them become extinct. We get it. Let’s stretch this out to it’s logical conclusion – there is no interface. We become the interface. The interface becomes us.

We’ll reach a point in the future where what Mr. Dawes is saying does come to be. People will no longer understand that bell telephone means ‘call someone’. Phones will become implants and we’ll simply say a person’s name to our interfaceless voice recognition system. We have HUDs in jets and cars, is it really a stretch to image an HUD eye implant?

Picture an iPhone without the iPhone.

Ironman without (or with) the special suit.


Given enough time, I could easily expand this post into a full thesis, but alas, I have to get back to work.

*in addition to Brenden Dawes tweets, I also found great thoughts by Samuel Cotterall here, here and here.


Education, Technology


Does Nokia understand user interface design?

What the hell is going on with that home screen on the N97?
By cramming everything on the screen, they cram nothing on the screen.
It does have an ‘analogue’ clock and Facebook access, so it must be cool.




site traffic trends: tuesdays are hot, fridays fade

Interesting insight by Matt over at 37Signals:

Want something to blow up? Tell the world about it on a Tuesday morning. Avoids the Monday avalanche people face and gives you the rest of the week to get play …Want something to fade away? Tell the world about it on a Friday afternoon. It’ll fade into the weekend.

This backs up what appears to be the case on Daily Exhaust:
UPDATE: My brother brought to my attention the unfortunate choice of words Matt at 37Signals decided to use in his post in light of next week’s upcoming anniversary. It should have been more obvious to me, considering I was there.


Education, Technology


hardware/software observations

Remember, it’s all software, it just depends on when you crystallize it …People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.

  • Alan Kay, Creative Think (computer industry seminar), 1982
    My coworker Victor was telling me about some of his great touch tablet biz dev ideas (top secret) yesterday and it got us into a discussion all about software as service, apps and everything in between.
    One of the things I mentioned was how I’ve been observing the iPhone drying up software-as-service on custom devices. Case in point: TomTom has realized (a little late, but not too late) that it doesn’t make sense to create hardware units for their GPS software when the iPhone now has GPS built-in.
    Sirius Satellite Radio is another one who’s realized they’re not competing with FM radio anymore, so much as they’re competing with iTunes libraries, last.fm, Pandora and the like. I would say there’s still a market for their satellite offering, but it’s definitely been cannibalized by internet radio services.
    So where is the world’s largest software company in this mobile application explosion? Not surprisingly, their strategy is fragmented all over the place. It’s interesting that Microsoft has historically been the company to boast their attention to developers, developers, developers, yet Apple has created the #1 mobile computing platform of choice for many developers. Remember, Apple makes their money on their hardware sales – anything software or media they sell is to move people onto their hardware devices.
    This fact makes vain attempts like Samsung’s all the more humorous.


Music, Technology