Framework of Computer Icons

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of Americans 65 and older do not use the Internet, believing that they are too old to comprehend computer interaction. This percentage, despite being high, is still a significant decrease from the amount of people who could interact with the Internet through computers at the start of the Twenty-First Century. Improvements to the interfaces of computer systems have greatly improved upon user interaction, a major part of which has included refinement and standard usage of icons. Icons, whether they are on computers, smart phones, or tablets, serve as the primary modes of digital navigation. It is easy to understand why these would be confusing to those who are not familiar with computers, since they attempt to replicate real-world spatial navigation on a two-dimensional surface containing tiny representations of internal destinations.

If a computer-competent adult in 2015 were to access a 1980s desktop computer, he or she would likely be confused. Since this time, icons have gone through a significant amount of change, gaining major improvements just as almost every other aspect of a computer enhanced. Initially, icons were in black and white, and many hardly matched what they represented. In 1981, David Smith, a mathematician, and Norm Cox, an artist, designed a square grid with simple looks and consistent style, which has become the standard layout of icons. Over time, these icons were formed with greater artistic talent, making use of color in the 1990s. Shading and other stylistic conventions made the icons look three-dimensional, and they were gradually developed to how they appear on our computer screens today.

To encourage ease of interaction with computers and other devices, it is essential that a standard form and size be maintained among different icons. ISO/IEC 11581-10:2010: Information technology - User interface icons - Part 10: Framework and general guidance provides the framework that allows for the design of icons, viewing them with both their associated functionality and the context with which they are considered. It shows that there are four major interacting aspects that should be considered in icon design: internal identity attributes, textual information attributes, non-textual representation attributes, and operations related to the icon. The guidelines in this standard provide  a simple-to-access interface for the user.

Aside from maintaining a particular functional design, certain icons are recognizable simply because of the reputation of an application or the company that produces it. As they were initially conceived and still used today, icons are made up of an image that is generally either a symbol representing the application that it navigates to or an attempt to visualize the use of the application in the real world. For example, word processor icons generally include a piece of paper and email applications usually contain an image of an envelope. However, if a program such as Microsoft Word were to not display a piece of paper in its logo and only show the application’s emblematic blue “W” in the icon square, users would easily recognize it and likely not be confused.

ISO/IEC 11581-10:2010 is part of a series of standards that provide guidelines for the design and analysis of computer icons. These standards include:

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