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Re: High-contrast icons


From: Jukka K. Korpela
Date: Jan 30, 2007 11:00AM

On Tue, 30 Jan 2007, Emma Duke-Williams wrote:

> Given that IE 7 now lets you expand text and images to the size that
> you like them best - rather than just the text;

Which behavior are you referring to? Zooming isn't really revolutionary.
It's part of its _problem_ that it resizes everything. If you zoom to,
say, 400% on a typical web page, you'll see just a small fraction of it
both horizontally and vertically.

> I'd be inclined to
> start to think about icons that are easily scalable (e.g. svg)

On modern browsers, rescaling of bitmap images works sufficiently well. I
mean it works so well that many other factors are more important to
accessibility than scaling quality. By the way, SVG does not really work
as the format of embedded images on web pages. Some day in the 2010s this
may change...

> - and concentrate far more on clarity of icons.

Well, that's surely important in any case.

> The biggest problem with icons for meaning is that people don't know
> what they mean.
> E.g. a door.

Indeed. Icons are seldom self-evident. A very common icon on web pages is
a mail box icon, which presents a type of box for mail delivery in the
United States. Admittedly many people recognize it from Donald Duck and
other art, but it still stands for _mail_ in the form of letters in
envelopes and small parcels. It is grossly wrong to use it as an icon for
so called electronic mail, or e-mail, which is actually a fully
computerized form of communication and quite often an _alternative_ to
sending a letter by mail. People have learned to associate the US mailbox
with Internet e-mail, but this means that every day, thousands of new
Internet users around the world will have to face this enigma, quite

Less common associations are of course even more problematic. I think the
bottom line is that for the most of it, icons should only be used
a) in conjunction with verbal expressions, not instead of them, and
b) when they are natural and intuitively understandable to the intended
audience - including people who are slow in learning, or keep forgetting
things, or have problems in recognizing visual shapes - as opposite to the
designer gang who loves to find icons for everything.

Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/