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Saturday October 10th 2015

When Are Better Icons Not?

libreofficeBjoern Balazs is described by as "a usability consultant with a psychology background" but for The Document Foundation he’s working with the LibreOffice User Experience group to enhance the usability of LibreOffice. And he says, "a statistical analysis shows that icons with less detail score better in terms of usability."

Balazs asked 3000 participants to assign an icon to a given task from a group of low detail icon set and then from a high detail icon set. Balazs’ team compiled the results from subjective and objective measurements. ("The subjective choice of an icon" and "the objective time it takes to choose the icon.") For example, an icon was given a score of ten if it was always associated with a given task and a "theoretical minimum of 0" if no one could tell what it was for. So an icon earning a 9 is probably "a good icon."

Then Balazs et al. plotted their findings on a graph and the low detail icons proved much better. The tested low detail icons rated approximately between 9.3 and 10 with a cluster around 9.5. The high detail icons received between 7.4 and 8.9 with most clustered around 8.0.

So, that’s how Balazs concludes lower detailed icons are better for usability than higher detailed icons. See Balazs’ blog for lots more details.

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