We Need a Better Symbol for the Concept of Saving Stuff

Isn't it odd that the floppy disk lives on in so many software interfaces?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

When I was reviewing Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone back in April, I noticed that some of its apps used an icon of a floppy disk to represent the concept of saving data, even though smartphones never had floppy drives.  Lots of other apps and services still sport floppy icons, of course, even though it’s been 15 years or so since floppy disks were essential equipment, and around a decade since PC manufacturers stopped bothering to build them into desktop PCs.

I commented on the Galaxy’s anachronistic use of the floppy on Twitter. And Twitter user frama_c remembered my tweet and just alerted me to an interesting piece by Lis Pardi, at design blog Boxes and Arrows, about floppy disks and other common icons, such as tiny Rolodex cards for contacts and magnifying glasses for either search or zoom.

Pardi conducted a survey of college students and found that most of them understood the floppy icon, and says that those results are evidence that the icon should live on even though floppy disks are dead:

Ultimately, the most important thing is to have icons that make it clear to as many people as possible what they do in the interface. It’s better to have 80% of users see the floppy disk, dig back into their memories of childhood technology and connect to this image as representing the act of saving, than have 100% of users see a downward facing arrow and wonder what it means.

My instinct is still to consider floppy-disk icons as weird and lame–especially when they show up on devices that didn’t exist in the floppy era, and especially as a higher and higher percentage of the world’s population consists of folks who have never touched a diskette, and might not even know what one was. (Side note: If you, like me, still think of them as “diskettes,” that’s a sign you’re really old.)

But maybe I should stop squawking until I come up with some suggestions for a visual representation of the concept of saving that are clearer than a floppy. I’m having a hard time doing so. Do you have any proposals?

[UPDATE: Also on Twitter, Vincent Agreda Jr. tipped me off on this recent group effort, at Branch, to replace the floppy icon. It’s long and thought-provoking, with a number of noble efforts, though none are slam dunks.]