The worst invention in computer science ...

... has to be the icon. Hieroglyphics is a 3000 year old technology. Early civilized people invented the alphabet because hieroglyphics suck. Who in the world thought it would be a good idea to litter a computer interface with dozens of stupid little meaningless cartoon pictures? Idiotic! I'm no technophobe, but I'm convinced computer use would be at least a third more efficient if pictograms were left behind with the prehistoric cave artists.

And don't get me started on Microsoft's little talking paper clip.

End of rant. Carry on.


Active Member
People who think Steve Jobs is god :D
Windows Vista - why?! Bring on Windows 7.
How computers became boring after 1995 (think back to all the platforms we had in the 80's/early 90's).
Daisy wheel/Dot Matrix printers which chew up paper and aligning those cursed perferated holes.
Mouse balls.


Active Member
I think most ppl can parse the meaning of a glyph much faster than they can read. I rather like the Eye of Horus icon myself...

The paper clip? Well, the paperclip dies. Slowly. Connected to a car battery.
I think most ppl can parse the meaning of a glyph much faster than they can read. I rather like the Eye of Horus icon myself.
There I disagree. You don't know what an icon means until you scroll over is and read the text. Or in the case of the MS desktop, all the names are right there under the icons, so the icons take up screen space and add exactly zero information.

Now to be clear, I'm not going to criticize people who like icons and prefer to use them. But for me, they're speed bumps. I would rather have the option, for one example, of get rid of the dozen or so icons on my desktop and just have a list on the left side of the screen taking up about a sixth of the screen space.

Many of the applications I use in engineering make use of strange little symbols in different contexts that probably mean something to the sales reps, or to people who have taken expensive training courses, but don't mean anything to me. But if I can use an application effectively and efficiently without knowing what most of those little doodads mean, how important can they be? They may actually slow you down because it makes you think the application is trying to tell you something that needs a response of some kind.

Sorry for the rant. I just get fed up with software companies trying to turn everything into a "compu-entertainment" experience.
I love icons and pics, the funnier the better!
The icons help people with good visual memory to learn and navigate around applications very effectively. If you do not get any help or use from icons, you just the type that memorize differently, and visual memory is not very helpful for you. However, about 60% of computer users have memorize easier when icons are presented. Lots of research is done on this topic, which is the reason that many apps use icons excessively. Another questions is how good icons are, but most of the time they help to navigate better than words. There is a reason they say that the picture is better than a million of words.
me thinks we have the battle of the visual (icons) vs the verbal (system error #x) vs the kinesthetic learners (throw it accross the room) on this thread too.


Well-Known Member
I read a paper about ten years ago from a researcher who thought the basic concept of icons was sound, but that the actual implementation in products had gone far afield of the original intent. Of the things he mentioned, the two that stuck with me were:

1. Icons were intended to be shortcuts for frequently-used items. Instead, software makers decided that everything had to be represented by an icon. Pictographic memory does not work like alphabetic memory -- that's the reason we have alphabets in the first place. You can read an English word that you've never seen before, and likely not only pronounce it correctly, but if you recognize the roots and antecedents, you may even realize what it means without looking it up. On the other hand, once you are presented with thousands of arbitrary icons, it's "roll the cursor over it and see what the tool tip says" time. On this very DF reply page that I'm typing on right now, there's an icon above the text window that I have no clue what it means; it appears to be an octothorp (a '#' symbol) inside of a light colored circle. Let me now go see what the tool tip says... oh, it wraps CODE tags around the selected text. How on earth was an octothorp in a circle supposed to suggest that?

2. Icons were meant to represent the function of the software that they linked to. However, early on, software vendors perverted this to using icons to instead brand their software. What kind of icon should Microsoft Project have? Well, since it's a project scheduling application, one might suspect that the icon would in some way suggest a schedule, or some scheduling-related business concept like a Gantt chart. Instead, Microsoft Project's icon resembles a roll of toilet paper. (Which, come to think of it... )

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