Maybe we need native support for undo in databases and a verb project for icons

A major problem that I have with the new interface is that Gmail has gone from text-based buttons to an icon-only design. Lots of desktop applications offer the choice between text, icons or text and icons. Gmail, however, seems to have decided that we’re all better off with just icons. But we’re not.


Not only does this make the interface less usable, but it also takes up more vertical space than the original design. The icons really don’t do the job anyway. Does an octagon with an exclamation point really say “spam” to you?

Funny, when I looked at the row of buttons, I thought the box with the arrow was the most cryptic. But I knew the one on the right was a trash can, so that must be delete. And oddly enough, when I saw the stop sign with the “!”, I knew it was spam, because the keyboard shortcut for spam is “!”. So by process of elimination and how the buttons are grouped, the box with the arrow must be archive.

The gmail team seems to have taken the advice of the post, as all the icons are now text.

I’m admittedly bad at knowing when interfaces are confusing to others, because I don’t mind clicking on things to see what they do, and doing a bit of thinking to figure something out. The strengths that I have as an engineer makes it a weakness when I consider interface design.

I have to remember that most people do not want to think, do not want to click unless they’re sure what it does.

Perhaps the latter can be fixed by software. Undo is not readily supported because it’s usually not a Minimum viable product to spend the extra effort to do so. It could also be that as programmers, the underlying way we store our data in databases don’t allow for easy undo implementation–that’s to say, we have to think about it at all.

Perhaps databases should support undo natively. Or the command pattern should be more familiar to web developers.

Another problem is that while there’s a noun project, categorizing nouns and their associated icons, what we really need is a VERB PROJECT. Most web applications have actions associated with the buttons. But often times, there’s no good universal icon for a particular action. What’s the icon for “archive”, “repost”, “render”? There are none, and we end up having to invent one on the fly with our presuppositions like mine about spam above


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