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Approaches to Interface Icon Classification

Various attempts have been made at creating a classification for user interface icons, with some focusing on their pictorial presentation, and others on the signs’ relation to their intended meaning. This paper provides a review of the existing classification systems, and discusses their strengths and weaknesses. Based on this review, we then propose an alternative practical approach to icon classification, which is aimed towards designers of user interface icons rather than the research community, and evaluate its usability based on data gathered from two online surveys.

Yvon Rogers: Icons at the interface

Icons at the interface: their usefulness by Yvonne Rogers (1989) is one of the earliest studies on the taxonomy of interface icons. Through her research, Rogers hopes to discover primitive syntax and semantics for icons, which could be used as a basis for designing a set of icons for a given application. This is a summary of some of the main points of the paper.

An experimental approach on icon taxonomy

According to Charles Sanders Peirce all signs can be classified into icons, symbols and indexes based on the signs relation to the referent. In this system an icon is limited to a representation that resembles its object. An index carries an actual connection to its object, such as a sign of a telephone on the door of a phone booth. A symbol in contrast has no visual connection to its object. It is an abstract sign that can only be understood through learning its meaning. (Rayan & Hubner, 2006)

Mollerup's taxonomy for trademarks

Per Mollerup's book Marks of Excellence thoroughly studies trademarks, their design, functions and history. The function of trademarks is of course different than that of icons, but there are many similarities in the aspects of their design. Mollerup has also created a complete taxonomy system for trademarks.

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