In Defense of the Floppy Disk

March 13 2015

"No one knows that the floppy disk means save." At least that's what the campus librarian insisted when she reviewed the website I worked on for her university. I had done research on just this issue, proving that over 90% of college students I asked could identify what the floppy disk meant. And though I beamed with excitement as I showed her this data, it wasn't enough. New students are always coming in, she said, much younger than the ones I polled. So I went back and surveyed 526 high schoolers to find out definitively: Do teenagers understand the outdated tech in our icons?

The survey says yes. 91% of the high school students were able to identify the icon as a floppy disk. And 91% knew that when they saw that icon on a computer screen, clicking it would save their work.

Case closed, right? Nope. Despite this research, I still hear about web designers who think the floppy disk icon should be retired. They claim that younger computer users (kids who have never seen a floppy disk) won't understand it.

But beyond my research, the English language also proves this to be wrong. There are tons of words that relate to retired tech. For instance, when you copy someone on an email, you're using the "carbon copy" function. Have you ever used carbon paper? Probably not. But you get what cc: means. Ever "hang up" a call on your iPhone? Does it involve anything actually hanging? No. Phones used to physically hang, but new models don't. And yet, you understand. It makes sense because our written language has evolved over time, and now our visual language is evolving too.

So let's leave the floppy disk icon unscathed. At least for now. Every time I've clicked it, it's saved my work. It never complained about being tired or sick. It's been a faithful and true friend. One that I will defend for as long as I can. (Or until research shows it doesn't make sense anymore...)

Thanks for reading!

I have research about this and 10 other common icons. Get in touch if you're interested in hearing more, or if you'd like me to talk about this at your upcoming tech or design conference. Together, we can save the floppy disk icon from extinction!

Lis Pardi
[email protected]

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