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Definition: icon


(1) See Icon language.

(2) A small graphic symbol on screen that represents an action or a resource such as an application, file, folder, menu or setting. Clicking or tapping the icon selects the item. On Web pages, icons are also used as a link to other pages (see hypergraphic). See emoji.

Often Overused
When graphics-based interfaces (GUIs) began to replace command lines starting in the mid-1980s, icons were often used without accompanying text. In order to use a program smoothly, users had to memorize the symbols or hover the cursor over the icon and wait a couple seconds for a text explanation to hopefully appear. Even today, software designers create interfaces as if users never ran anything but their single application, resulting in myriad hieroglyphics users must remember.




iPhone Icons (Images and Text)
Apple popularized the smartphone interface and set an intelligent example of icons and text used together. See iPhone.






Some Text But Not All
In this Apple TV home screen example, half the icons display text, but the other half requires scrolling over them with the remote to reveal their purpose. Too often, software designers expect people to memorize their symbols, which is only viable when the product is used routinely.