Lists - icons or no icons

27 Nov 2006 - 3:19pm
8 years ago
6 replies
724 reads
Karen Graham
2006

I'm working on an application that has an outlook like presentation - list
on the left - panel on the right.

The list is divided into two groups of items - separated by a bar - like
favorites folders and email folders in outlook.

My question is: Since the items in each group are the same kind of item -
would you use a list icon or not?

Some say that because all the items are the same - you don't need an icon.

When we remove the icon the list looks a little plain.

Currently we add a little dot to the icon to indicate that the item is the
default item - but we could do this another way.

I'm wondering if there is any theory out there to support either argument.

I thought there was some research saying that having the icon made it easier
for users to hit the target with a mouse.

Any thoughts or info would be appreciated.

Thanks

Karen

Karen Graham

..........

1 6 x 1 6

310-418-4505

karen at uidesign.com

kgrahamim (aol)

Comments

27 Nov 2006 - 3:30pm
Ian Roberts
2004

One of the many things drilled into me in grad school was this, "Icons make
choosing items faster, only after the icon has been associated with the
item." So the answer to your question is the one we all hate to give: it
depends.

If icons can be created that accurately (and directly, no puns) describe the
items in the list, and if the icons are designed so that people can tell
them apart visually, and the icons are next to the words that they represent
so they aren't essential to the design, then it will speed up people
selecting the items, and can enhance the visual feel of the application.

Otherwise, spend some time on the typography of the list (e.g. adjusting the
leading between lines, choosing the right font, etc.) to make the 'plain'
list of text links more usable and attractive.

My 2 cents.

~ian

Ian Roberts <Interaction Designer> Pacific Northwest National Laboratory,
Richland, WA [http://nvac.pnl.gov]

On 11/27/06 2:19 PM, "Karen Graham" <karen at uidesign.com> wrote:

> My question is: Since the items in each group are the same kind of item -
> would you use a list icon or not?
>

27 Nov 2006 - 3:43pm
Mark Schraad
2006

The design guy in me says. great icons are very hard to do. Look at Microsofts icons and that becomes evident. If you need wordss to explain, or the user to learn the icon, then they may be a mistake.

The usability guy in me says that unless there are language or reading issues they may not be needed.

The business buy in me says Icons are very sellable. And that "can" be a good or useful thing. Icons can definitely enrich and inhance a user experience.

Good luck,

Mark

27 Nov 2006 - 3:48pm
mprove
2004

Hi Karen,
do you have a list of objects? Stuff where people are supposed to interact with in the sense of putting something inside? Creating and deleting them?
Icons support the concept of objects. They are also more likeley the target of drag&drop actions than a plain textual list.
-Matthias

--

User Experience and Interaction Design :: http://www.mprove.de

27 Nov 2006 - 4:05pm
mprove
2004

Hi Karen,
do you have a list of objects? Stuff where people are supposed to interact with in the sense of putting something inside? Creating and deleting them?
Icons support the concept of objects. They are also more likeley the target of drag&drop actions than a plain textual list.
-Matthias

--

User Experience and Interaction Design :: http://www.mprove.de

27 Nov 2006 - 9:15pm
Ripul Kumar
2005

Karen,

If the items are the same type, an icon will not reduce the scan and find time, it may increase it -- depends on how the icons are designed and presented with the list items. A quick way is to eliminate the icons and put your energy to make the list items easy to find by using an appropriate typeface, size, style, case, and leading.

About the dot that you mentioned that you are using; check if the distance between the dot and the first letter of the list item is very small -- it may hamper the speed of finding items.

If there are few types of list items (and all of them have similar probability of occurring in the list), it may be worthwhile to spend effort in designing usable icons (please test them!). Ensure that the icons' shape, size, dominant color, and distance from list items is right for "quick" scan and find. At this point of time, you may also have to figure out an appropriate way to categorize the items in the list -- alphabetical, similarity, frequently used on top, etc.

If there are many types of items in a list and one item has a significant edge in probability of occurring; use icons for all except the most probable. This will help in clearly differentiating the regular one from others.

Cheers,
- Ripul

--
Ripul Kumar
Director, Usability Consulting & Outsourcing
Kern Communications Pvt. Ltd.
http://www.kern-comm.com
+1.201.793.7154 (USA)
+91.98.663.42166 (India)

* Usability in India *

28 Nov 2006 - 12:49am
Richard Czerwonka
2005

In past I've implemeted it both ways and then let the end user choose if they want icons
or just plain text. These days, it depends on the audience. For business, I keep
everything plain. For utilities and games, then I have a bit more fun with the fancy stuff.

On 27 Nov 2006 at 13:19, Karen Graham wrote:

> My question is: Since the items in each group are the same kind of
> item - would you use a list icon or not?
>
> Some say that because all the items are the same - you don't need an
> icon.
>
> When we remove the icon the list looks a little plain.
>
> Currently we add a little dot to the icon to indicate that the item is
> the default item - but we could do this another way.

=================
Richard Czerwonka,
Delphi Programmer
ENT Technologies
Mob: 0412 104 042
=================

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