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Three Iconic Icon Designs That Your Kids Won’t Understand

Fun fact, the thing you think of a heart? You know, the little Valentine’s shaped chocolates you get? That isn’t supposed to be a picture of a heart. It’s supposed to be the seedpod of the Silphium plant. It was a popular symbol of romance in the Roman Empire because, well because it was a really good contraceptive. So good, in fact, that Romans harvested it to extinction. Which is why the symbol makes almost no sense to us- we have no real world basis for comparison (It really does look nothing like a heart).

The thing is, exactly the same thing is already happening to a whole generation of children. If you’re younger than 10 years old, the chances are you have no idea what it means when you see:

The “Save” Disk

If you grew up in the 90s than the floppy disk symbol made perfect sense. After all, you couldn’t just store all your documents on your computer. Who has enough memory for 6 word processing files? So you “saved” all your information to floppy disks, which you carefully filed away for as and when you needed them.

And now… we never use them. Ever. Can you even remember when your laptop stopped having a floppy disk drive?

What to replace it with:

Most of information tends to be stored in “The Cloud” now, but a symbol for a cloud could easily confuse meteorologists. Instead the new symbol should be a silhouette of a hard drive, a simple, straightforward rectangle.

A Phone to Mean “Phone”

To you that picture means “phone”. It means “Phone” as in telephone, as in the device that you use to call other people through a global connection of wires. To a child of ten that picture means “Phone” as in the silhouette icon that they press on their “Phone” meaning a portable supercomputer and entertainment centre if for some reason they need to voicechat rather than text or email. The signals are sent… probably by magic. I don’t know.

What to replace it with: Make the phone look like an actual phone. That is, a silhouette of a rectangle.

A Cassette Tape to Mean “Record”

The “Cassette” is our go-to symbol for “recording”. Whether it’s music, answer-phone messages, your wife having an affair while you’re out the house, whatever the situation the turning tape spools is the strong visual cue we can think of for putting sound away for later use.

This despite the fact that cassette tapes were never, ever, ever any good.  When they came out they weren’t as good as vinyl, what little sound you did record on them got lost first time your toddler started to unspool them to “make ribbons” and when the CD came along it instantly offered far better sound quality. Today, even the CD is an obsolete curio. It’s time to move on.

What to replace it with: Today we all use iPods, MP3 players, or our phones to play and record sound. This can be symbolised with a simple silhouette of a rectangle. I’ve got to admit, this is one of the easiest design jobs I’ve ever seen.

Chris Farnell is a freelance writer who covers design and technology issues. He is most easily symbolised by a silhouette of a rectangle.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.