[Tango-artists] Facing direction of icons

Daniel Pope mauve at mauveweb.co.uk
Mon Jul 17 11:03:27 PDT 2006

Rodney Dawes wrote:
 > There will always be icons that face different directions. The obvious
> example is of arrows. There will always be an icon facing one direction
> for "back", and a complimentary icon facing the exact opposite direction
> for "forward".

I don't think that's anything to do with this discussion. Such
constraints are clearly imposed at a functional level. We are talking
about an aesthetic level.

> Some icons would just look weird, as well. The speaker
> icon for the volume control would just look really odd if it were facing
> left, instead of right. A microphone icon "facing" the opposite
> direction of the speaker icon, also only seems natural. It exemplifies
> the flow of data through the system.

Not at all. In fact I think quite the opposite. Both are components in
one computer system, and both are directed towards the user. It's better
if both icons convey the concept that the computer's internals are
'left' and users' space is 'right'. Or vice versa in fact, if we're
talking abstractly, but I think the speaker definitely needs to face
right. Perhaps simply because we're used to it facing right.

It's only on menus that it becomes important for icons, which are to the
left of menu items, to flow (to direct the eye) towards the menu item
label. It was this specific example which I was pointing to. The best
direction for an icon to face varies depending on context, but menu
items are at least as common a context as anything else. Right-facing
icons would also suit horizontal toolbars.

>> I've tried to find an online reference for graphic design 'flow' to
>> justify this but I can't at the moment. I do however hold in my hands
>> the very good "Design Basics Index" (ISBN 0-7153-2053-X) which devotes a
>> whole chapter to it :)
> If you're
> looking for books to back up suggestions, some examples you might want
> to look at for design, would be Feng Shui books. Designing UI and art is
> about so much more than simply consistency of style and direction. As
> with other things in life, there must be balance.

As far as I can tell, Fend Shui is a system of rules and concepts
designed to improve flows of 'Qi', some kind of 'karma' or 'energy' or
something. This is nonsense IMHO, but I could believe there is some
aesthetic component of 'Qi', in which case this can be easily equated to
our modern understanding of graphic design: that there are rules and
concepts, consideration of which allows us to produce more aesthetically
pleasing graphics. 'Flow', is one such concept. Graphic design is what
this is about; trying to rationalise design decisions with Feng Shui is
going to get us nowhere.

'Variety' and 'Harmony' are both applicable concepts. But I think
'Harmony' is probably more important in governing icon facing. You're
not trying to inject edginess by having icons point in random
directions; you're trying to give each icon equal visual weight.
'Variety' would apply to icon colour though.

> Icons are about flow, and not about uniformity. If every icon on the
> system, simply faced in the same direction, there would be too much
> monotony, and the system would seem very boring, and odd.

I think the OP's screenshot of BeOS is a clear counterexample. Actually,
it illustrates well what I've just written; the common facing and
isometric perspective lends unity; the difference in colour and shape
lends variety.


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