Design & UX
By Gabrielle Gosha

Challenge: The Floppy Disk and the ‘Save’ Icon

By Gabrielle Gosha

Dear Floppy Disk,

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but some people want you gone. Some still love you and the others, well you haven’t caused a problem yet so you’re still welcomed to stop by every now and again.

To be honest I don’t know what’s going to happen to you a few years from now. I don’t think anyone does, but if this is one of the last few times we get to talk, I just want to say thank you for saving me time and time again.

Always Grateful,

A. User

2 Disk

The above letter may sound a little dramatic but for a number of few years now the floppy disk icon has come under fire for being used to encapsulate the idea of ‘saving a file’.

It has been a discussion point for so many years that we are addressing it once more with the hopes that our readers might provide some insight and even suggestions to this issue.

While I’m not campaigning to save the floppy disk, I’m certainly not grabbing the nearest pitchfork and torch to march on it either.

The Floppy Disk Assumption

The core assumption seems to be that those who are born in the 21st century have no tangible experience with floppy disks, and therefore won’t be able to interpret any meaning from an icon employing them.

While this does make some sense — we know iTunes moved away from using the CD icon for similar reasons — I’m not so quick to assume that those born after the 90’s aren’t smart enough to realize that the floppy disk means ‘save file’.

The Iconography of the Floppy

The icon itself is usually a simple blue 3.5 floppy design. For the majority of people who see the icon they readily know that it’s the symbol to “save” or “save as”.

Whether you like it or not, it’s useful to remember that the floppy disk icon is iconic, and icons — regardless of logic — can often persist for a long time after their initial meaning has receded.

But let’s be clear on something: I’m not suggesting that because the floppy disk is iconic that it can’t be changed. Things change. That’s inevitable but before you go around changing things we have to look at things on larger scale than just the generation issue.

Light bulb and life buoy

Save… file? No.

Currently there doesn’t seem to be any self-evident solution to the floppy disk dilemma. Some have tried novel solutions but, so far, none appear to have been significantly clearer in meaning.


Let’s Play Devil’s Advocate

By now you’re probably asking yourself: “What’s the use of an icon if it needs to be explained?”. Surely the purpose of an icon is to encode the meaning into the graphic?

The answer is, yes, ideally that’s a goal, but this isn’t always possible.

Question: What does this mean?

The Power icon

If you’re reading this article on a laptop, computer monitor or phone you may barely need to move your eyes to see this icon. Xboxes. DVRs. It’s ubiquitous in technology.

We all understand exactly what it means, but how?

It’s hard to draw its meaning entirely from the symbology: a circle broken at its top by a line. In fact, you could argue that a completed circle *should* mean ‘on’ — as in, completing the circuit — and that a broken circle should mean ‘off’ — or breaking the circuit.

But it doesn’t. We all know it that it means ‘on’, because it’s a symbol we’ve all learned and collectively agreed upon its meaning.

Perhaps it works the same with those born after the 90s when it comes to the floppy disk.

Ancestors of our modern letter 'A'

Ancient ancestors of our modern letter ‘A’.

Let’s dive a little deeper and talk about the alphabet.

Every modern-day letter started in a different form to the shape we’re accustomed to. The letter ‘A’ is a perfect example here.

History tells us that the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet was ‘aleph’. Aleph is one of the earliest known ancestors to our letter ‘A’, and is believed to be based on a Phoenician pictogram of an ox head.

Presumably there was a time when knowledge of ‘phoenician oxen’ was helpful in interpreting aleph, but that hasn’t made ‘A’ any less useful today.

Will the Floppy Disk Icon Outlive the Concept of ‘Save File’?

Perhaps there’s an argument to be made that the era of the ‘Save file’ icon is closing. You won’t find a floppy disk icon in your Gmail UI, because Google has done away with the idea of manual saving of files.

In the age of Git, source control, and automatic backups, you could argue that the the idea of manually saving discrete, standalone files is ebbing away.

Maybe your grandkids will ask you “Did you really have to save your own files in the olden days, gramps?”

The Challenge #1

So is it time to say goodbye the floppy disk icon?

It’s time for you the reader to step up to this design challenge. We are interested in how you would graphically tackle this issue. Show us your best design or even a couple that could work as a substitute for the floppy drive icon.

Your design could be a rehash/simplification of the floppy disk or something completely new altogether. Surprise us. We’re interested in seeing what you’re going to do.

Also let us know whether you love, hate or are indifferent with the floppy disk staying current.

  • I think the issue is not that the younger generation not understanding that the icon represents a floppy disk, because that is not what it represents to them. It represents “save” and that is all.

    The issue seems to be around those of us who remember the floppy disk, and interpret it not only as “save” but also “floppy disk.” Quite simply, this is our own hang up.

    As you illustrated in your article, the “on” icon is not meaningful as a representation of anything real. It is an icon that is learned, and once learned, we no longer ponder if it has a relevant real world representation, because it does not need to.

    Same goes for “save.” Once learned, people understand what it means, regardless of its real world application. It isn’t a floppy disk icon. It is a save icon, and so no reinterpretation is necessary.

    • Ka

      Very well said.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Sean I completely agree with you. I think some people get hung up on trying to find logic in everything instead of just “going with the flow”.

  • Ben

    Something that might need to be considered is the definition of the word “Save” itself. In the computing world, it means something along the lines of “write a file to disk”. In the real world (in English, anyway), it usually means “To rescue from peril” or something similar. This would explain the example icon of a life preserver wrapping around a light bulb. It’s a literal interpretation of the word “save” rather than an icon for “Write a file to disk”.

    Interestingly, in Southern Louisiana (where I was born and raised), the word “Save” has the additional meaning similar to “Putting an object into its rightful location”. Outside of Louisiana, I get laughed at for saying “Save the dishes” or “save the groceries” even though everyone who uses a computer has no problem “saving the files”.

    Using this colloquial definition, it might be easier to come up with a pictographic representation of “save the file”. Perhaps an icon of an arrow pointing to the interior of a cupboard or something? Obviously, it would be an abstract representation to someone not familiar with the Cajun definition of “Save”, but it would still map more closely to the idea of “putting data in a location from which it can be later retrieved” than a life preserver.

    That being said, as with most iconography, the picture ends up symbolically representing the idea of saving a file, rather than literally “putting a file onto a disk”. As such, any attempt at changing an icon that’s been so heavily ingrained into modern culture (such as the on/off symbol) would be fruitless. There may be a better way, but much like the metric system in the U.S., the de facto standard will reign because the time and effort required to replace its ubiquity is far too great.

    • cimbalino

      This is really interesting. Portuguese is my native language and we also use “save” for putting stuff where it belongs; the word is in fact “guardar” which has two meanings: to keep from harm / to guard and to put it where it belongs. Due to the fact that english is the kickstart for 99.99% of computerish vocabulary, many portuguese speakers wrongly transliterated “save” into “salvar”, which in reality means “to rescue”.

      As for the icon, I believe the “square” will prevail until a saving action becomes obsolete, no youngster cares nowadays if the floppy is a floppy or a square within a square, people just know it saves and keeps the file preserved (hozon – japanese) somewhere.

  • Brett Bendickson

    This reminds me of a great story a friend tells, about watching a young child go through flash cards in a restaurant.

    Parent holds up the number 9
    “Nine”, says the child.
    Parent holds up a 10.
    “Ten”, the child replies.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      That’s a very interesting observation that your friend made Brett. I guess it just goes to show you the power of symbol/iconography association. But it does make me wonder whether the child was introduced to the pause symbol prior to learning their numbers.

  • I design a lot of applications for enterprise software. Unfortunately making sexy apps is like pulling teeth. Which is ironic, because I’m currently designing an app for the ADA.

    Anyway, if I tried to introduce an icon other than a floppy drive to some middle aged upper management CTO, he’d have a fit. If he didn’t have a fit, the middle aged office assistants using the apps would have a fit.

    Whether you agree that the icon is losing it’s meaning or not, the fact remains that many people still understand it and are afraid to see it go.

    For a somewhat related anecdote, we built an app recently that did away with the save button, because as google does, we were using AJAX to save in the background. Good God you wouldn’t believe how many complaints we got from the client because they were confused about how to “save.” So we just added a save button that fires a toast notification that the file was saved.

    It’s ridiculous, but that’s the way the corporate world works.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Really great to get some personal experiences from people who have seen first-hand what can come about when trying to do away with the save button. I can only imagine the complaints on that one. It is interesting though to think that even with saving in the background that people still want the icon present.

      That makes me think of how some complain over the save icon’s design even when they stick to using shortcut keys instead of clicking on the icon itself.

      Thanks for taking the time to share Jeremy.

      • Well, it wasn’t the icon they were looking for. It was missing a save button completely. Even though we had a toast notification showing the save in the background that saved as they clicked out of the input field. The complaints we got were that they weren’t sure it was saving and they were scared they would lose their information when they left the page. It appeared to be the physical act of clicking the “save button” that gave them the confidence that it was saved.

        Keep in mind that this app wasn’t built for teens and people familiar with the newest tech gadgets. It wasn’t a commercial app. This app was built for enterprise, so it was a lot of lower level data entry people. Most of them probably didn’t have smartphones or if they did probably got one more recently.

        It just shows how much your audience really matters when designing user interfaces. Trying to make sexy applications for enterprise is not an easy thing to do! I learned my lesson.

    • OsakaWebbie

      I think that if I were dealing with those complaints, I would have been tempted to try a bit of retraining when I had to add the button – my notification might have said something like, “Your changes were saved automatically as you made them – this Save button was added for reassurance but doesn’t actually do anything.” Would management have considered that condescending? ;-)

  • Ha! That’s awesome. I’m from New Orleans, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone say “save the groceries” or “save the dishes.” I bet it has something to do with the the french verb, similar to “making groceries.” For anyone not familiar, “making groceries” is a New Orleans colloquialism for “going to the grocery store.” It has it’s roots in the french verb “faire” “to do or to make.” So, it turned into “making grocers.”

    Anyway, that’s really interesting. I love it.

  • Tatsh

    I am a bit indifferent to the floppy disk icon. Even KDE 4 has the Save and Save as buttons as a floppy disk and a floppy disk with a pencil over it (to represent writing a new name) respectively. I am 26 and was around when floppy disks were the norm (and zip drives on Macs in particular, and flash drives were a huge deal when they got to be > 1 GB).

    Should we instead use flash drive icons? Even then do children growing up today know what a flash drive is? Or maybe a ‘hard disk’ abstract icon? I feel like I have seen this before. It is meaningless in a sense because it usually is just 3 or so platters on top of each other (to represent hard disk platters) but most people do not know how a hard disk works. And then again, SSDs will be the norm soon enough which have no platters (okay then, PCB with SoC?). It is a major challenge to replace ‘Save’ with an abstract icon which is probably why most applications retain it. Also, it is a nice reminder of where we have come from for those of us who know.

    A lot of applications and even settings apps (like Preferences in OS X) save as you go, automatically, with versioning so you can go back. If this idea was more widely adopted (trusted particularly) then we could simply not have Save/Save as buttons. They would be unnecessary.

    Regarding ‘Save as’ as a button, a better UX might be to remove the ‘Save as’ button altogether because it may be the case that people use Save more often than Save as. Most applications pop up the Save as action if the document is not yet saved. So if a file is new, the Save as action is only performed once generally. Users are familiar with making a copy then starting on that copy instead of using Save as to achieve the same result.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Tatsh, like you I’m rather indifferent with the icon, I just want to be able to save my work when I need to. I’m two years younger than you so was also around and using floppy disks from time to time for class projects until the flash drive came into play..

      I remember there was an article written maybe a year or two ago here on SitePoint where flash drive icons were suggested as a substitute for the floppy. There were both negative and positive reactions to that idea. I’ve never seen a ‘hard disk’ abstraction used but maybe one day something of the sort might take precedence. I don’t see it happening anytime soon though to be honest since trying to replace something that’s been around for so long is a huge challenge especially when it comes to being accepted by the masses.

      We might be headed in a direction where you have the automatic “save as you go” as you mentioned since there are applications that do that already. Google Docs comes to mind. But I guess we will all have to wait and see.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Anita

      I wish more apps had Save As… as an icon and as a shortcut. Saving to a different format or location seems to be something I do quite a lot. A plain Save (cmd-S) is so automatic that I’ve often done before I think to check if I’ve saved or not.

  • Gabrielle Gosha

    Ben thanks for the insightful information, it’s always nice to pick up some new knowledge.

    I like your suggested idea of a better way to conceive a representation for the “save icon”. It’s a nice refreshing take. But like you mentioned “the de facto standard will reign because the time and effort required to replace its ubiquity is far too great.”

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Nick

    I always thought the power (or standby) icon came from binary (0 = off, 1 = on)

  • The “Save” and “Save As” buttons need to go altogether. Google had a good reason to ditch them in Google Docs.

    The buttons have caused more problems than it solved. Not remembering to save a document would cause a lot of work to be lost if, for example, the computer switches off due to low battery or a power cut. It also makes for a bad user interface. Automatically saving a document in regular intervals is a much better choice UX-wise. It lets users focus on the document they’re working on and less on whether their document is saved or not. Don’t you obsessively press Ctrl+S 50 times just to make sure the document is saved?

    • I would keep the save button. I would replace the “save as” button to a “duplicate button” Sometimes programmers would like to duplicate their work, modify it, just to see if their function operates correctly, and if all else fails, they can go back to the original version before the duplication. COPY and PASTE and UNDO and REDO have LIMITATIONS.

  • Actually the ‘power’ symbol is a combination of two different symbols (power ‘on’ – line & power ‘off’ – circle) and in this version means it’s not fully disconnecting something from it’s power supply, but rather a standby state.

    If the vertical line was fully enclosed by the circle then the switch would be a true ‘power’ button. Check out your printer or anything with a ‘rocker’ switch. You’ll see the straight line and circle by themselves. And yes, they’re based on binary.

  • Anita

    I remember when I began seeing the on/off symbol. I had no idea what it meant. But I’d be happy to see the floppy disk go and something more generic for ‘saving your work to a file location’.

  • Frederik Krautwald

    Actually, we should talk about committing or commending information to a file, database, or whatever we commit or commend information to, which would mean that we entrust a file, database or memory with storing information; we confide information to the file, database or memory.

    This is a very similar concept to archiving. However, archiving in digital technology means compressing information (files), usually, into a single file.

    In essence, storing information is memorizing, which means think. In Old Norse, mind also means a image (probably from the concept of recalling a vision, an idea, a copy; to imitate).

    An obvious problem is that concepts don’t exist in the context of physical existence, whereas objects do. So in trying to picture a concept, we will tend to use objects that are related to the concept, or use a series of pictures to describe the event (concept), like in a movie.

    In ancient times, mankind would carve information in stones to store it, which seems to be a rather universal thing happening across cultures. But I am not sure that a chisel would be a good pictogram for committing information.

    To store comes from steering (with a pole, a rudder), eventually from ‘to stand’ (like a pole). This leads to the stet, which is a mark used to mark that material (a manuscript) should be retained. Literally, stet means let it stand. Typesetters would use a circled tick (check mark) to indicate which information should be retained.

    I like the idea of the tick or check mark, as it is commonly understood, so I would propose a circled check mark as a good pictogram candidate to replace the floppy disk.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Thanks for commenting Frederik and sharing your knowledge. You have some really intriguing ideas in regards to this issue. It would be interesting to see them be put into practice even if it was just as a trial run.

      • Frederik Krautwald

        Whereto and how can we send our design suggestions?

        • Gabrielle Gosha

          Hi you can place your design suggestions right here in the comments if you like. You could even send them via SitePoint’s social media like Facebook and Twitter as well I’m pretty sure.

    • OsakaWebbie

      I hear you, and the imagery of a check mark is certainly strong (at least in western cultures; in Japan, correct answers on a test are marked with a circle and incorrect ones with a check mark, but I digress…). But I would think that a check mark as all or part of an icon might be too easily misinterpreted as an indicator of state rather than an action to be done. In other words, people might think it means that the document is saved, not a button to save it.

  • An icon is usually a metaphor for a concept; which might be a thing or action or state, and should be treated as a part of the alphabet of “The Symbol Language”, and thus, shouldn’t be changed simply everyday, because the metaphor-relationship between a concept and the icon represents it needs time in order to be settled down in mind. So, we should expect and accept that a concept beyond an icon may be expressed by something old.

    Think of email icon, so far, the best icon represents e-mail technology is an envelope!

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Well said!

    • Frederik Krautwald

      Very true. Concepts expressed with pictograms, or any other drawing or sequence of images for that matter, will always be a metaphor. As a concept isn’t an object, it cannot be drawn; simply because a concept has no shape. So, as you put it, we employ metaphors to express these concepts. For example, we use a heart shape as a metaphor for love, and other emoticons to express feelings. How quickly a metaphor settles down in mind is determined by how quickly it is widely accepted and put into everyday use.

  • Gabrielle Gosha

    Thanks for the further explanation. I can totally understand their fear of thinking they haven’t actually saved their work. To be honest I had a similar panic when I first started using Google Docs as I wasn’ t aware that it was saving as I was working.

    Just goes to show you that we can’t always go for the latest trends with everything we create. Once again thanks for sharing!

  • James Harris

    Some thoughts, hopefully some help:

    Regarding the statement, “We all know it that it means ‘on’, because it’s a symbol we’ve all learned and collectively agreed upon its meaning.”

    It is often used to mean On / Off (as in IEEE standard 1621), and it’s the IEC 5009 symbol for Standby, but that’s a fine point and doesn’t always apply, and I will touch on it (no pun intended) later. The symbol does in fact come from the binary “state indicators” 1 and 0 (zero). The main point here is this: The reasons we search for a control with this label (usually a physical button or a button drawn on a screen, but not always) are: (1) to learn the current state of the machine/service/function we are concerned with, and (2, optionally) to try to change its state. The only available state change with this symbol is called “toggle”: if it’s on, and we “activate” this control, we are acting to turn it off, and if it’s off, we are acting to turn it on. The term commonly used is we “toggle” the condition of the control.

    If the control is a button, its lighting tells us its current state: Usually steady blue or green means On; amber means Standby (effectively Off but it indicates the device will change to On if it is toggled); Off is maybe red, dark (no light), or the abominable flashing green or flashing any color. The definitions and indications for Off and Standby are inconsistent across manufacturers, devices, cultures, etc. and most of the time they don’t matter, because our actions are the same anyway: Once we decide we want it On, and we view the control and determine it is not On, we will do the same thing regardless of what it indicates, even if we misinterpret the indication or we know that we don’t know what the indication means: We will toggle it, and by so doing we will learn for sure what state it was in (Off/Standby or broken), and probably achieve our goal of turning it On.

    Now, applying some of this to the Save action and icon:

    Whereas in the Power Button situation there are two “Use Cases” (Learn State and Change State), in the “Save file” situation there is only one Use Case: We have reached a condition where we believe the file we have been working on is now in better condition than the “last saved version”, and we want to prevent loss of the most recent work increment by initiating protection of the current condition.

    Please let me diverge for a moment to clarify some important points about the sentence/paragraph above. (1) This is what is wrong with auto-save methods that don’t keep versions: If I have invested work in something and it was saved and I thought it was good, then I continued working on it and botched something that Undo wouldn’t fix and it’s a lot of work to fix manually (or worse yet I don’t know what I messed up), my best way to recover is to Close Without Saving and re-start from the last good save. Often the auto-saver saves the botched version before I can prevent it, and once I realize this might happen again, it makes using such a tool so stressful that I refuse to use it. This is often true for workers who are not simply entering data but instead are solving problems / designing solutions and recording increments as they develop, and they may not be able to re-capture the results of inspiration embodied in the last work increment. (2) Our environment is very different now than when “Save” or “Save As …” meant to write our file to some non-volatile medium so a power loss or system crash would not mean we had to re-do work: (a) Data storage is literally free, or effectively so, and therefore it is a good use of resources to save _new_ _versions_ of work _every_ _time_ the “Save” function is initiated, whether by auto-save or by User decision. Once the project is completed and it’s time to “archive the good stuff”, all of the duplicate data can be removed via an automated process, without reducing in any way the value of the archive, even if it is desired to support showing the complete history of edits. (b) Saving on a single medium is never advisable. We work on big projects with many interdependencies, and to lose a day’s work because our hard drive failed can mess up many other persons’ decisions and other work. Therefore, “Save” should include at least two media, at least one of which is in a physically safe facility, e.g. a data center.

    Given all of the above, then, what is the significant condition and desired result?

    It is the realization that now is a good time to tell “The System” that another increment of Good Work has occurred, so the icon replacing “Save” is activated. The desired result is that another Milestone of some sort is generated, and if “The System” is “online” (i.e. the file’s work increment can be added to the repository where it can be accessed by any number of authorized users) then that should happen quickly, the “dirty” indicator is cleared, and the announcement is sent (or made available) to those who have subscribed to this notification system. If “The System” is not online, an image is saved locally and the task is queued (and date-time stamped in order) for when it next detects it _is_ online.

    So the above collection of tasks sounds like a combination of “publish results” and possibly “prepare for another increment”.

    As soon as the User enters any change, the “dirty” indicator is re-lit, and the timer to remind the User to re-“save” is re-started at the User’s chosen value.

    What icon to replace the “Save” icon could possibly embody all those actions?

    A “happy face” might work, but unfortunately it would not be specific to “happy about the latest work increment”, and it’s already used for so many things that it would probably be a duplicate.

    A radio tower might signify the “broadcasting” aspect OK, but would not be distinguishable from the WiFi or RSS Feed icon, and not every “save” action will be “broadcast”.

    A “milestone” is hard to iconify, since different cultures had traditionally different shapes for real roadway milestones (and of course some didn’t measure miles), so it seems this idea is “right out”.

    Sorry, I guess I’ve rambled on about the problem and said nothing about the solution, but maybe it will help somehow.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Hi James thanks for taking the time to drop by the article and leave a comment. Don’t worry about the length of your comment. I for one like when readers give their insight on things and share their ideas and suggestions in such a way that you and several others have.

      To be honest I had to actually go back through the article to understand why so many people were referencing the power button. All articles go through an editor so sometimes things get added or removed upon publishing. But I really appreciate all the valuable information you have here.

      You have really made some interesting points and given a lot for people, myself included, to think about. I really can’t express how great your comment is so thank you once again for commenting. Personally I think your thoughts could fuel an entire article on this subject if you were ever interested in doing such.

    • James Harris

      One more “data point”:

      LibreOffice folks made the “save” icon symbolize putting stuff into a hard drive: It’s a fairly large arrow pointing down into a rectangle with a few lights or something on the front (it’s a really small icon). Of course, that software is built by a very large and very competent team, so their choice probably had a lot of skillful thought behind it, and it works well for me, partly because (and I think this is a valuable principle) the mouseover text says “Save”, which we all still recognize as the function we want, though it doesn’t include many of the “bells and whistles” I described in my first post.

      IHTH (I Hope This Helps)


      • Kelderic


        I think your comment has been the most thought provoking I’ve read here, because it’s dealing more with the bigger picture question of the “save” process itself, rather than the icon. Version history is something I’ve only recently been experiencing as I’ve started developing with WordPress. We use a tree metaphor, with a trunk which is the current-most development version, with branches or “tags”, taken as snapshots whenever things are deemed stable enough for a new release. The terminology “tag for release” would correspond to the terms “publish results” or “prepare for next increment” that you mention. However, as a new user who had a computer background, even I found the terms “tagging” and “branching” to be unintuitive, and and replacement for “Save” is going to have to be utterly intuitive for it to have any chance to overcome the momentum of the previous terminology.

        The other problem is that many people don’t trust or even want to use the cloud at all. The scenario you describe is perfect for collaboration and for people who care about seeing every revision, but many people don’t care about either. Whatever method/terminology/icon we end up going with will need to work with all use cases, (at least a variation will need to be able to).

        Really what we need to do is take a look at a large number of related terms and their meanings and see if we can combine things in a more logical pattern:

        Save As

        A study of all use cases and where actions overlap would be useful, because when I save via the cloud, upload and download as separate things become meaningless, as they are just integrating in the act of saving.

    • James Harris

      One more “data point”:

      In any human interface, I think it’s important for the system to do something in response to every User action, e.g. in text entry, when a letter key is hit, that letter (hopefully) appears on the line being entered and the “typing cursor” moves one space to the right (in our writing system). When this response does not occur, the User knows right away that something is wrong; this is the important principle. Likewise on a User-initiated “Save”, some indication needs to be given that it was at least attempted, and again that it succeeded or failed (after an appropriate wait). Gmail and SimpleNote indicate this by putting up the words “Saving …” and “Saved”. SimpleNote even goes so far as to put up a warning box “Your most recent edits have not yet been saved … Are you sure you want to navigate away from this page?” or something to that effect. Cool. LibreOffice indicates “Save” success by graying out the Save icon (something M$ Office has not yet learned to do), so the User knows it succeeded and there is no need to re-initiate it (in fact, such an action is ignored). As soon as the User makes another change, the icon is re-lit, so it serves as both a Save-action confirmation feedback and a “dirty” indicator.



  • Gabrielle Gosha

    Thanks for clearing that up Chris, I guess there was some changes made with the article.

    I actually took a peek behind my shredder and it indeed has as you note a separate circle and line. Nice to learn something new.

  • Thomas

    Grammar error
    I’m not sure if you;ve

    Also have not read this yet, but I like the idea of holding onto some old things:)

  • Hassan Schroeder

    I’m not sure where that “…but rather a standby state” comes from. Both the Macbook Air and the small fan on my desk have the same “broken circle” icon on their respective power buttons, and both said buttons toggle powered/not-powered-at-all.

    If there was ever intent that this icon convey “powered/standby”, it seems not to be universally recognized :-)

    • Blackcat

      I’d always understood it to be “on and off combined” – a soft-switch that toggled between off and on rather than the type of buttons that had a definite off state and a definite on state.

      And I’m almost certain that the first time I saw reference to the origins of the symbol itself (which I’d never really given enough thought to to make the connection) was in a Sitepoint article.

  • Claudio Lassala

    I don’t think the icon is the problem… it’s the “save” idea that’s the problem. I wrote a blog post 4 years ago about this:… that’s my take on it. :)

  • Gabrielle Gosha

    Hi Claudio thanks for sharing your post. You make some valid points with all the topics you cover. I think with the whole saving dilemma it’s sort of split with some people taking issue with the icon itself while others have an issue with the “save” concept as you noted. But thanks again :)

    • Claudio Lassala

      You’re welcome, Gabrielle. :)

  • Neil Evans

    Only yesterday, I was asking someone born this century if he knew why his hard disk was labelled “Drive C”. He didn’t. (For anyone else who doesn’t know and may be questioning the relevance of this to the article, drives A and B were originally reserved for floppy disk drives…)

    Next time I see this young man, I am going to ask him if he knows why his email composer has buttons labelled “Cc” and “Bcc”…

    The history is interesting and should be passed down from generation to generation. Recent history tells us that new adopters will accept existing convention quite happily so why confuse those of us not fortunate enough to have been born this century by making unnecessary changes?! OK, that’s going a little too far and a lot of change is for the good. But not all. And not change just for change’s sake. I’m off to lie down now.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Hi Neil, thanks for the info. I remember something about Drive A and B having something to do with floppies but didn’t think anything about the name for Drive C.

      I agree with you though. Most of us are more than willing to accept a concept no matter how old it is without too much noise about it. I don’t think it’s always necessary to adopt something new all because someone wasn’t born during the time of the concept’s conception or use. If we did that for everything we would have a problem. As my parents always taught me “if you don’t know what something is then look it up or ask someone”. That’s one of the nice things about the Internet, all those archives of useful information. Thanks for your comment.

  • Alex McCabe

    This was my understanding of it. If you look at some old-school switches they have 0 on one side an I on the other. The I/O button was a combination of both into a single icon, and the day I realised that my mind was just a little blown.

    • I believe the I inside a circle means on/off as one can be seen on a microwave the I within a semi-closed circle means standby.

  • OsakaWebbie

    Computer terminology was developed first in English, so other languages had a chance to take a more careful look at meanings. The Japanese word used for the computer term “save” – hozon – literally means to preserve, which is definitely the right idea. The word for saving someone from peril is completely different and has never been used in computer jargon.

  • OsakaWebbie

    Since the traditional idea of saving a file is changing and may go away, I say, “Leave the icon alone.” (I would probably say that anyway – its meaning works even if its origin is forgotten.) Instead, let’s focus our creative attention on what should be done next. James Harris made some good points – simply saving immediately with no ability to mark milestone points is a bad idea. I know that I often create a new thing based on an existing thing, and I’m not always diligent to do that Save As as the very first step. Here are some thoughts:

    * The term Save As should be replaced by something like Duplicate, because the concept of Save will eventually go away. Duplicate already has a good icon.
    * Software that automatically saves as edits are made should provide (as a substitute for the traditional idea of Save) a way of indicating approval of the current version as something more significant – a “milestone” or “store point” or something like that.

    • Gabrielle Gosha

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Osaka. I like the idea of leaving the icon as is as well.

      Duplicating in lieu of Save As could be effective for like you I too base some of my projects off of something I had already been working on. I had made mention of Google Docs automatic save feature and while it may be a nice feature there are some issues that arise from that type of treatment. Being able to have the power to approve of a particular save, save it where you want and in a way “archive” your versions seems more ideal to me.

      I know the software I use to write keeps all versions of my work prior to each new save which allows me to manage all my versions no matter if I have an auto-save setup, which I do. This is a nice feature to have and is in a way a “store point” in the same way that Windows offers restore points for people who might run into an issue with their system for whatever reason.

  • Nigel Wade

    The powers symbols are directly referenceing the binary state and were designed that way :
    The standby symbol you show combines both and is technically not a power switch (that is the 1 inside the 0 denoting that the switch toggles).

  • The floppy disk is an old thing, indeed, but it’s the standard. Why change something that actually works? A CD would not fit there, and a hard drive doesn’t look nice there. I’d rather stay with the floppy disk.

  • Although I’m a bit late to the discussion I just wanted to say that I found the article very interesting and that it certainly got me thinking a lot.

    I started off by thinking of possible design ideas for the save icon and by the time I had finished reading the comments I was questioning whether or not we actually needed a manual save function at all.

    I’m a bit nostalgic in general and I like to remember retro technology, whether it’s the save icon, an old cassette tape or a historic games console such as the Commodore 64.

    I tend to resist change for change sake but I also welcome the discussion because it can improve a convention which we take for granted, and, at the same time provides an opportunity for us to look at how and why we do things.

    Thanks Gabrielle for writing the article and thanks to the people that interacted with it.


  • Thomas Wootten

    I noticed that Scribus uses the arrow-point-at-hard-drive option, and it struck me that I recognised the button as Save less by what the picture was and more by the *position* in the toolbar. In software that uses a traditional toolbar (rather than an Officelike ribbon) the leftmost three items are almost always New, Open, Save, in that order. That’s far more ingrained in me than what the icon looks like.

  • Vann Weller

    i like the idea of all files constantly being saved every time you do something different to them. but if you want to save a project at a specific point, it is useful to be able to send it to a specific place. I like the idea of a JAR….as in a place to PRESERVE something. more old school than a floppy, but more pertinent today. I do video editing, and I would like to be able to save a work in progress by selecting the jar icon. and then being presented with a customize-able list of folders to save the current workproduct in, and backing it up into other locations as well.I do think the FOLDER icon still works. The issue with the floppy is that it represents only a short period of time in the history of storage technology. In the grand history of technology, ANYTHING that spins or is in any way mechancial will be completely superceded. The jar icon can be graphically simple, but i guess the problem would be in differentiating it from a trash can.

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