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Webb et al. on the evaluation of icons

Jayson M. Webb, Paul F. Sorenson and Nic P. Lyons wrote an article about potential ways for evaluating icons in 1989. The article was titled "An empirical approach to the evaluation of icons" and it was published in the SIGHCI Bulletin in July 1989. 

The article is historically significant as it presents one of the early systems for icon taxonomy and attributes for evaluation. The authors recognize three main icon categories:

  1. Picture – Realistic depiction of system object or function. These are most detailed and easiest to interpret and remember.
  2. Symbol – Emphasize critical feature by analogy or symbolism. These are simplified and most affected by context.
  3. Sign – No intuitive connection between icon and referent. These are abstract, simple and association must be learned.

The main evaluation attributes they considered were: detectability, legibility, interpretability, recognizability and preference. Preference in this context refers to which icon or icon types the users prefer. One outcome of the research was that the subjects clearly prefered realistic icons over abstract and arbitrary ones. The article describes a set of pilot experiments that aim to produce a basis for standard evaluation tools and design guidelines, which would help designers create better interfaces. 


Webb, J. M., Sorenson, P. F. and Lyons, N. P. (1989). An empirical approach to the evaluation of icons. SIGCHI Bulletin. 21 (1). 87-90.

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