Using icons to communicate is nothing new
Ancient Egyptians used them. However, if no-one knows what they mean they serve no purpose.
Take this skeuomorphic icon. To represent email, it references a bygone era, when ‘written’ communication took place with letters, envelopes & stamps.
Skeuomorphism helps communicate meaning by representing something familiar to describe a new function. How about newer icons, that are slightly more abstract?
What does this icon mean? This location pin indicates it links to map.
Due to it’s adoption by high profile sites, such as GoogleMaps, it’s likely to be quickly understood. It will soon be as familiar as the symbols for male and female toilets.
How about 2014’s major new icon?
Pictured right, it was originally called the navicon, as it opens navigation menus. Renamed the ‘sandwich’ icon, it’s now commonly known as the ‘hamburger’.
Recent research suggests recognition of the new hamburger icon with web site visitors has been relatively slow.
So, visitors are likely to ignore not just this icon, but all content beyond the site’s home page.
James Foster of web publishing company, Exis, recently carried out a user testing study with a sample of 240,000 unique visitors. Replacing the unlabelled ‘hamburger’ icon with the word ‘MENU’, increased menu link click throughs by 20%. Read more >
The best current solution in my opinion is a hybrid. For those familiar with the icon, this speeds up navigation whilst the label provides an explanation for those not yet up to speed.
This should encourage ‘deeper reading’ and engagement which will encourage visitors to get in touch. And what do calls to action make ?