Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Icons to Buttons

Every once in a while I come across some text at work where the term icon is being used in place of a desktop shortcut; the context being that icons are being created on the system's desktop.

Being how I am, I immediately think how silly it is to make this mistake--I am a stickler on semantics and I can't stand lexicon branding (eg Kleenex for tissues).

Perhaps the term icon is colloquially accepted for the thing that appears on a modern & conventional computer virtual desktop. Maybe I'm being harsh. I can't think of many times when I've had to refer to these things that appear on your desktop. And maybe I would end up telling someone to "press the blank icon".

I think of icon as an image used to convey or recognize something or an intent. What is created on the desktop is something more than just an icon. I'd say they have icons. Again, the software engineer in me has to make the distinction between is a and has a relationships.

The most recent time when I saw this misnomer, I decided to Google define:icon. The result was pretty much what I expected:  the use of icon ramps up around the popularization of the personal computer (circa 1980).

But around 2000, the use of icon starts to decline. Why is society starting to abandon this term now? Given the misnomer noted previously and the correlation to computers and the modern computer desktop, did something change about computers around this time to influence this change?

First thing that came to mind:  the iPhone; the new wave of mobile computing.

Below is the Google Books Ngram Viewer of icon crossed with iPhone.
  The graph supports the theory that the diminishing usage of the term icon is eclipsed by the mobile paradigm spearheaded by Apple's iPhone.

So, that leads me to my next question:  what term are people using in place of icon, particularly in the context of mobile computing?


Although the term button is also subject to the computer influence as icon, around 2000, increases in a similar fashion to the decreasing of icon.