Over on DaringFireball, John Gruber points out an annoyance he has with icons used for "Save". Specifically, he doesn't like the idea of using a floppy disk as the icon, and he, rather snarkily, suggests using "S-a-v-e" to mean "Save".
Couple of problems with this. First, the question is about icons, not labels. In the vast majority of cases, the label for a save button at least includes the word "save". There are, however, legitimate cases where you'd want to have an icon as well, so suggesting that developers not use any icons at all isn't really a viable choice.
Second, text in an icon violates one of the cardinal rules of localization. Once you put text in an icon, you then have to have a version of the icon for every language you want to support.
John closes his remarks by saying, "I can’t think of a single floppy-disk-for-save button anywhere in Mac OS X or iPhone OS..." Well, I can think of three: Word, PPT and Excel use a floppy disk as the icon. It's the icon we've been using for "Save" since back when having a floppy disk for that icon actually had meaning.
Now, this does raise a rather interesting question for apps that have been around the block a few times. Do you change an icon which has a rather established meaning for current users when the nature of changes in computing have stripped some of the meaning from that icon? Personally, if we were doing Mac Office for the first time today, I'd much prefer something like Mars Edit's document-into-a-folder icon. But, for an icon that has an established meaning, the "right" answer isn't obvious.
For any app that gets past version 1.0, this general question is a constant issue. We face it so often, that we've expanded user experience (UX) as an engineering discipline within MacBU. We've made it coequal with the development, testing and program management disciplines, and are increasingly incorporating a variety of UX design techniques, not just usability testing, into our development process.
As I find time, I hope to be able to talk a bit more about what this means, but, if you're interested, the Wikipedia entry isn't a bad place to start.
None of this, though, actually highlight's John Gruber's mistake. What was that mistake? Never get snarky in a blog post that includes the phrase, "I can't think of."
Currently playing in iTunes: It's Only A Paper Moon by The Tierney Sutton Band