Is This The End of Symbols

by NJB // // Broomfield, CO

© 2023 Nantucket E-Books LLC

CC-BY-SA 4.0

There was an old edition of the newspaper comic Luann showing the dad packing away the Christmas lights for the year. He proudly tells the family something like this: “This box is labeled ‘AG’ for ‘Above Garage’, and this one is labeled ‘WLOFL’ for ‘White Lights on Front Lawn’”, and so on. Can you guess what happens next Christmas? Of course you can! Good ol’ Dad has no idea what “AG” or “WLOFL” mean. His clever plan made things even more confusing.

I fear I have found myself in a similar predicament. From the very conception of Nantucket E-Books, I had planned to use icons for the interactive features. The first one was a light bulb, which would activate dark mode. It grew from that first feature to a suite of interactive features, each having their own icons. A couple years ago, the icons were designed for consistency. The icons are built with SVG, and in most cases were designed on graph paper. I have never used Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator to design these icons, they were manually typed, line by line, into a text editor.

There was just one problem with my beautiful menu icons: nobody had the faintest idea what they represented.

It recently came up in beta-testing that the meanings of the menu icons were a total mystery to readers. In hindsight, this was a problem from the start. The politeness of some beta-testers has wasted many hours of development time. Here I was so pleased with myself: the little home icon means a link back to the home page, and the plus and minus symbols will make the text bigger and smaller! Tonight I learned the plus and minus symbols were particularly confusing.

I can at least console myself by knowning I’m not the only designer who has confused people with their symbols. Did you know the four symbols on the PlayStation controller had very specific meanings? According to the original designer, the triangle represents viewpoint, as in a person’s head or an arrow. The square represents a menu, as in a piece of paper, and the X and O represent yes and no.

Well, live and learn. I could complain about the masses not understanding my brilliant little icons, but that’s not the point. The point is making a really great e-book that people can pick up and enjoy right away. With that goal in mind, I am planning to replace the menu icons with regular old text. It’s looking quite nice across devices, which was a surprise, and the closed menu is going to be more discreet than ever.

You have to put the customer expeirence first.

What do you think? Try to find better icons, or move forward with text in the menus?

Oh, and let me head off a couple suggestions: having both would add a new level of complexity to the e-books. Some suggested using cookies to track first-time users, who could be shown instructions, versus returning users who don’t need instructions. Do you feel the web does not have enough cookies already? Also, if my e-books are so complicated they need instructions, then I’m in real trouble.

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