Forgotten roots of popular icons – InformTFB

Forgotten roots of popular icons

Forgotten roots of popular icons

A popular joke claims that our children will perceive a 3.5-inch floppy disk as a 3D-printed save icon. Indeed, there is a growing generation that does not know the object from which this icon was drawn.

But the forgotten data storage format is far from the only symbol that we lose our memory of its origin. Symbols do not only originate in disappearing objects in reality: some of them originated in outdated standards, and sometimes a new object or phenomenon needs a memorable icon, the author of which does not get the deserved fame. Gradually, icons come into our lives, and we can no longer tell where they are rooted.

In this post, we will try to trace the etymology of the most simple icons that are firmly embedded in our graphic language.

Media buttons without an author

Playback control is no problem today: these are the standard icons for playing, pausing, stopping playback, and rewinding. Anyone can predict the player’s behavior when clicking on a square or two parallel vertical lines.

This set of symbols is so versatile that we use it even outside the context of audio-visual content playback. For example, an isosceles triangle pointing to the right is placed on some washing machines, where it symbolizes the beginning of the work cycle.

The origin story of these icons is primarily related to the playback devices themselves. A typical media player has built-in graphic buttons with rewind symbols, as if we are still reading a magnetic tape. It would be more convenient to have buttons to go 10 seconds forward or backward, rather than rewind. But the mental analogy with magnetic tape was so successful that the images survived the format itself.


Control panel of the German AEG FT4 tape recorder, which was produced from 1939 to 1941. No icons, just short captions. Photo The magnetic audio recording Museum in Austin, Texas

As in devices for recording sound on a wire, in early tape recorders, keys and levers were signed with text. We didn’t think about any standard at that time.


Control panel of The Ampex AG-440 tape recorder, model 1967. The professional segment and designation only for the us domestic market eliminated the need to translate labels. Photo of the Audiofanzine website

Attempts to create an intuitive pictogram led to results that are unusual for our eyes, which perceive only modern standards.


Swiss tape recorder Revox F36 in 1962. Perhaps because of the bilingualism of the country of origin, the manufacturer decided to put graphic symbols on the case, rather than text inscriptions. Photo of the Reverb website

By the seventies, globalization and the conquest of the world market finally forced us to think about a single standard. In 1973, the international electrotechnical Commission issued a document IEC 417. The standard fixed graphic symbols, many of which were widely used before that.

It is impossible to track down one brilliant designer who makes icons in media players look exactly like this today. Individual contributions have been lost among the innovations of the recording industry.

There are attempts. Several websites erroneously claim that the icons were created by a defunct Swedish designer, Philip Olsson, during an internship in Japan after completing his studies at the Royal Institute of technology. In fact, this is a piece of information from Wikipedia, which in 2012 was added by wikivandal under the name Phlopydisk. Judging by his Online accounts, Philip inserted his name in the article for some reason.

The playback triangle points to the right. The tape also moves there when playing audio. If we are talking about a reel-to-reel tape recorder with auto-reverse, then sometimes there are two playback buttons. In this case, there are 2 (mono) or 4 (stereo) tracks on the magnetic tape. Only one version of the play button is ingrained in the design: pointing from left to right.


Advanced” reel ” Pioneer RT-909 was sold already in the sunset of the tape era, since 1978. Photo By Walkman Archive

The pause button is similar to the caesura symbol “||”, which is placed in the text to indicate a pause. It also resembles the character り, the last one in the Japanese word 句切り (kugiri), meaning “resting place” or “punctuation mark”.

On the Straight Dope forums, an anonymous user was discovered who claims that in the sixties he worked at Ampex, where he reduced the stop button square by removing the upper and lower faces-otherwise an equal sign would have been obtained. But there is no other evidence for this.

The color of the record button circle was dictated by tradition: a red display indicated a live broadcast.


Control buttons Grundig TK46, tape recorder produced from 1962 to 1964. The red circle is already used here, although otherwise the case is heavily covered with English verbs. The model for the German market was produced with inscriptions in German. Photography Of Relics & Rarities

Symbols from the IEC 417 standard (also known as IEC 60417:1973) gradually spread around the world. This took more than a decade, and often icons and letters were next to each other. But the simplicity of the icons won out.

And drawing intuitive icons is not so easy. In the same IEC 417 document, the usual triangles, squares and circles have an analog that depicts the actions with the tape and the coils themselves. This analog was used, for example, by Soviet technology: instead OF the 5107b icon on the play button, there was a 5096 similar to glasses, instead of two parallel vertical bars 5111B-a magic rune 5111A, and so on.


The Soviet Kvazar-303 cassette recorder has been produced since 1985, when simple triangles, squares and circles for pictograms were already established in the West. Photo “Virtual Museum of Russian radio engineering of the XX century»

The Scandinavian trail

The ⌘ symbol in macOS indicates the Command key. As with many other features of the Apple interface, the icon’s history goes back to designer Susan Care.

In August 1983, the Apple Macintosh software development team noticed that a special key was needed to invoke commands from the menu bar. The developers decided to put the company’s icon — a small bullseye. This has already been done with the Lisa keyboard.


Apple Lisa computer keyboard. Image from the Bitsavers archive

Next to each menu item was a keyboard shortcut for calling it up. This meant that the screen was covered with a lot of tiny bitten apples.

Suddenly, Steve jobs, who was in charge of the work, rebelled. Perhaps he saw the MacDraw program, in which there were really a lot of menu items. He stormed into the office building and demanded to stop taking the Apple logo in vain.

To all the admonitions that you need to show at least some symbol, jobs said: change the icon. Since this included both the physical keyboard build deadline and the user manual printing deadline, there were only a few days left to find a replacement.

I couldn’t come up with something good quickly. Artist Susan Care combed through the dictionary of international symbols, trying to find something memorable, attractive and suitable for the menu button.

Care reached the Swedish landmark symbol, which marks places of cultural interest. This symbol appeared in the fifties in Finland and quickly spread to the rest of the Scandinavian countries.

The square with loops in 16×16 resolution was approved by the entire Department. After 37 years, each “poppy” still has a pagan symbol, which in the Millennium before last was drawn to scare away evil spirits.


Apple m0110 keyboard from the original Macintosh. Photo By Deksthority

Jobs himself left Apple in 1985 and founded his own company, NeXT Computer. On NeXT keyboards, the command key is marked with a green Command label.

Already in 1986, Apple IIGS added the company’s logo to the key next to the landmark symbol. This was done to maintain compatibility with previous generations of Apple II. In 2007, the company’s logo disappeared again. At that time, NeXT had already been part of Apple for ten years, and jobs again influenced any processes.

Another symbol of protonordic culture that is firmly established on our devices is Bluetooth. Once upon a time, the Protocol’s website even had а special page explaining the choice of name and symbolism.

The composite rune in the logo of the wireless data transmission standard combines the symbol of the younger Futhark Hagalaz (“ᚼ”) and berkanu (“ᛒ”). Together they form the initials HB [Harald Blåtand] of king Harald I gormsson “Bluetooth” of Denmark and Norway, after whom the standard was named. Like the Bluetooth Protocol that binds devices of rival manufacturers, this Tenth-century ruler United the rival principalities of Scandinavia.

But the nickname “Bluetooth” Haralds got, probably not for the blue, and darkened teeth. But the Bluetooth logo interprets the color literally.

The latest ” lost ones»

The era of global use of touch interfaces has introduced new requirements. On the screen of a tiny smartphone or even a tablet, large controls do not always fit. Unnecessary items have to be hidden behind the menu, which is called up by clicking on a special icon-hamburger.

For all the novelty demands of the four-inch smartphone boom, the symbol was born much earlier than jobs showed the iPhone to reporters in Cupertino. As with windowed interfaces, the hamburger icon was born at Xerox at the dawn of personal computing.

The author of the three stripes is Norm Cox, one of the developers of the world’s first graphical user interface, Xerox Star. According to the Creator of the element, in his work he was guided by the limitations of displays. We needed a well-defined and memorable icon that would mimic the appearance of the list of items being opened. And in a square of 16 × 16 pixels with grayscale, you don’t really have to go wild.


Screenshot from the video. The video was edited in 1990, but the date indicates an internal Xerox demo from 1981. The word “hamburger” does not sound: the element is called a ” menu button»

As Cox admits, one of the most insignificant and poorly thought-out elements of the Star system has received the greatest legacy. They even wanted to put a downward-pointing arrow, a “+” or ” … ” icon on this button — any symbol that meant “miscellaneous” or”additional” would fit.

The original name of the icon was different: Xerox employees jokingly told customers that it was a fan grille that cools the interface elements.

Tracking the icon’s further distribution is easy. Hamburger appeared on the smartphones themselves on June 17, 2009 in the voice notes app in iOS.

A possible candidate among third-party apps is Tweetie, the first Twitter client from renowned iOS developer Lauren Brichter. Tweetie was released in 2008, and at that time Brichter worked at Apple

The search for a hamburger was on the path of simplification. Facebook added a 2×3 grid icon in 2008, and a year later changed it to 3×3. In 2010, the app’s interface changed from nine squares to three bars.


Facebook app interface for iOS, 2008

The growing pace of modernity is erasing the history of more than just a 40-year-old invention. Web interfaces do not have a standardized icon for sharing content, although there are candidates. Three dots connected by lines, as if illustrating a graph, have become noticeably widespread.

Its Creator is web developer Alex king, Creator of the ShareThis plugin for WordPress. In November 2006, king wondered if the add-on needed a special icon. On December 4, 2006, the web developer publishes the first option, which then only slightly modifies-thickens the “graph edges” so that they can be better seen in a small size.

King successfully anticipated the need for a new symbol. By the end of 2006, Alex opened the Share Icon Project website, where he called for using this logo to indicate the action of sharing, and posted an archive with images. Alex announced that he is licensing the icon under 4 free licenses at once: GPL, LGPL, BSD and Creative Commons Attribution 2.5.

The pictogram became widespread: less than a year later, it was launched use Google in your own interface. In September 2007, Alex king announcedthat he was selling the logos of ShareThis, a social media widget company of The same name.

In a mirrored form (so that there are no claims for the trademark), the share icon is ubiquitous in mobile applications and the Android operating system. The icon of three connected dots gives up its position to the curved arrow, but it still remains one of the most popular symbols, whose authorship we do not think about.


Without the history of the development of the standard, the Ethernet logo is hard to understand: these are some squares that for some reason communicate over one cable. The real twisted pair goes from device to device.


The Ethernet port and its logo

But everything will fall into place if you remember that in 10BASE5, the first Ethernet standard, up to 100 nodes were connected to a common coax cable by “vampirites”.


The logo probably has something from the sketches of the author of the Ethernet standard, Robert Metcalf

Modern Ethernet has gone far from 10-megabit speeds. We consider a Gigabit Internet connection to be the norm and think about a ten-Gigabit LAN in an apartment. It is unlikely that anyone will remember about coaxial cable when enthusiasts abandon copper in favor of optical cables for organizing a network in the house. But the logo remains the same.

Exactly the same fate awaits the floppy disk icon. The need for a save button is unlikely to disappear, even if the speed of writing to disk today allows saving any changes almost in real time.

Although the designers are outraged if the symbol is disconnected from the era, and children see a vending machine on the icon, the visual metaphor for saving data will remain the same. When a standard is adopted globally, the chances of avoiding it are minimal. If this were not true, we would have long gone to the Dvorak layout and called spam “unsolicited correspondence”.

Anderson
Anderson
Web site editor and tester.

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