About a week ago, I started a Branch discussion on redesigning the Save icon. I never saw the Branch as the actual place where the icon would literally be designed, but I thought it would be a good hub for conversation. To my amazement, the thread took off and grew far beyond the bounds of that single discussion. As the days went by I found the meta-discussion more interesting than the discussion itself. A significant amount of people considered the exercise a waste of time for one pervasive reason. The icon, albeit antiquated, had become the de-facto for save and had transitioned into an abstract symbol. People know what it is, so why waste our time making something new?
I noticed an interesting pattern, through almost all those individual arguments. Very few, if any described the current Save icon as being good. There were plenty of mentions of it being established, understood, standard, etc. But rarely, if ever, referred to as good. The sense I was getting was, “Yeah, it’s old and kind of silly, but it works. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Imperfect as it may be, we’re stuck with it”.
First and foremost, the Save icon is broken. Objectively broken. I won’t go into the details of that in this article; I’ll be writing more about that in the near future. Initially, my interest in redesigning the Save icon was purely due to the fact that the design is not clearly communicating the concept of “save” and that it can be made better. However, after reading through the meta-discussion, I think it’s important to redesign the icon just to dispel the idea that we are somehow stuck with the current icon or with anything for that matter. Nothing is forcing us to continue to use an antiquated design and we shouldn’t feel beholden to some tenured relic that’s only redeeming quality is it just happened to be around before anything else. We’re not talking about legislation or physical infrastructure. We’re talking about the most fluid, dynamic medium around – information. If we can’t redesign a stupid icon, how can we expect to change serious things.
The aforementioned arguments for keeping the old floppy disk around aren’t new. It’s the same basic argument that has kept the imperial unit system around in America. Replacing an established standard isn’t easy. People won’t like it—mainly because it has the unfortunate quality of being different. That dreaded learning curve of “different” often scares people towards safer paths. Yes, new things need to be learned. But learning is a basic function of the human experience. The goal should be to make something worth learning. By avoiding tackling old, outdated and flawed standards, we are missing out on meaningful design challenges.
I am convinced we can make a better Save icon. It’ll be hard, but I truly think a symbol can be made which more accurately, elegantly and timelessly communicates the concept. I’m also convinced we can make a lot of other things better—really important things. However, many of those things have established norms that aren’t going to be particularly easy to replace. That’s the risk. If we succeed, the reward is the chance to make profound impacts.
The age or establishment of something shouldn’t preclude it from scrutiny and/or replacement. If anything, that should make us all the more eager to pull it down from its pedestal. Our job is to make things better—or at least try to do so. The Save icon is not good enough. We should try to make it better.