I was watching my 10 year old daughter work on a story in MS Word 2007. To save the document, she was going into the Word menu to select save. I asked her why she just didn’t click the save button. She said “What save button?”. I pointed out the save button that is just above the Home tab.
She thought that was the print button. She had no idea that the save button glyph represented a 3.5” disk. She’s never seen one. I have some around, but it’s been years since I have actually used one of those guys.
I dug out an old 3.5 disk and gave it to my daughter. She had no idea what is was. And was not impressed when I explained to her what it was.
The 3.5” disk had a good run, but it’s been 15 years since Apple came out with the first iMac without a floppy drive. It took a few years for the rest of the industry to catch up, but now the 3.5” disk is deader than a dot matrix printer. Which is another piece of computer technology that my daughter has never seen.
For the last 20+ years, it has been common place to use a disk icon for the save button on toolbars and menus. I don’t think twice about it being obsolete technology, I just “know” that a disk image on a button means save. But for a 10 year old, she doesn’t have that frame of reference to identify the functio. From her viewpoint, the closest match is a printer, their icons can look a bit like the disk icon.
The problem is that we really don’t have anything now to replace that image. What other object represents saving a file, and can be drawn in a 16×16 matrix? We’ll be carrying around that image for years after the last disk falls part.
We carry around other baggage like that. It’s like dialing up someone on your cell phone. I can’t remember the last time I used a phone that had a dial on it. But the terminology is so well established, we just associate dialing with the act of placing a call. It’s time to come up with some new visual metaphors.