Icons Aren't Informative

  • Posted on: 18 September 2015
  • By: davis

In a world of mobile-first design, native builds, and small screens, there's a horrible new trend underway.

This trend obfuscates meaning, looks cool, and offers virtually no help to the user.

Why are all of these apps and websites using cutesy icons instead of labels? I find myself having to become expert in each application that I use - oh yeah, in this program, the little hamburger menu opens options - in this program, the hamburger icon opens your friends list. Why do I need a friends list to turn down my thermostat? Who knows.

Snapchat is an offender of this to the extreme. Every time I open Snapchat, I have very little idea of how to use the damn thing. How do I access the most recent snaps? How do I get to my friends? Wait, how do I change settings? I have no fucking clue, because everything is hidden behind an icon.

Here's a hint, UX designers of the world: I am not Snapchat Certified. I have not read the documentation. I don't know what the fuck that icon means. I'm here to easily share pictures with friends. Your UI is a non-helpful organizational mess, which is impressive for an app that basically does three things. I don't know what it means when it's purple, or blue, or red. Here's a handy guide from Snapchat for understanding their convoluted design.

Yeah, go ahead, explain to me how I should intuitively know what's going on here. The top portion is easy enough - Flash and Rotating Camera. Those are good uses of icons, as those are familiar and have a simple toggle setting - on/off.

Now, at first glance, what is that bottom left? What is bottom right? Guess what - there's no way you can know without opening them and checking!

Guess what else? I've used Snapchat for a couple years, and I still don't remember the functions of those buttons when I pull it up on my phone. Do you know why? Because I do a lot of stuff in my life, and remembering the distinction between Snapchat buttons is way down on the list.

It's like this for so many applications, I can't be arsed to list them all. So many applications are trending towards this pretty, minimal, icon-heavy design.

I get it. It looks good on a portfolio. It feels and looks slick. The only problem is that it's operationally useless.

The hamburger icon (below) in particular has lost nearly all meaning. On some sites, it will allow you to login. Others, it's a fully fledged menu. Sometimes it's just a settings menu. Sometimes the main navigational framework is hidden behind the hamburger. How do I know? Haha, that's the joke! I can't know until I spam click through all of the icons.

This sort of icon-heavy design leads to the user aimlessly clicking icons until they get one that works. Then, the user is required to remember the specific icon that grants them access to the utility they need.

How is this user-friendly? Your app may look slick, but your user feels like they're playing some ridiculous shape matching game for toddlers. 

Okay, your settings are in the triangle.
No, email is in the square.
Go back to the hexagon, that one has your friends list!

*repeats for next 10 websites*

*blows brains out*

Give me back "File", "Edit", "Menu". Give me my ugly toolbars with labels back. Because I can at least work with those. At least those things are structured by logic and design, and not the whims of someone who crams functions behind a hamburger menu.