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I am making an icon depicting "Follow me" can 2 arrows pointing to either sides be used as follow me or any other suggestions arrows in a circle??? chain link...?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Unless you are used to walking in two different opposite direction at once this icon is a poor graphical representation for following you :-)

The problem is that there is no accepted standard graphical representation for "follow me", mostly because there is no accepted definition for the "follow me" action (at least on a computer).

So 1. you really do need to provide more information if you want icon suggestions and 2. the icon will be non-standard (because the action is non-standard) and will (not might, will) be confusing to new users of your site - so a label is a better solution in this case.

By the way, two arrows in opposite direction is the standard icon for "conflict" in development tools, and chain links is the "link" icon in almost every document editing program/component on the plant (including the text box on UI stack exchange I'm typing this into right now).

If you mean follow me on twitter use a bird icon (preferably with the label "follow me on Twitter").

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I liked your suggestion. I am developing a talent site, where each user has a profile and in his/her profile there is info on the number of other users following him to depict his popularity. Would arrows going in a circle describe the same? –  iAspire Jan 10 '11 at 11:13
    
@iAspire - isn't an arrow going in a circle a standard reload icon? or sometimes a sync icon? I would stay away from arrows except for next/previous/move up/move down –  Nir Jan 11 '11 at 9:59
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"Follow" is an not a common action and has no standard icon. A text label is more obvious.

Twitter provides text on their "follow" button. If icon-only approach does not work for them, it hardly would anywhere else. I assume they did some usability testing.

Twitter Screenshot

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Interesting point. When has an icon ever been enough on its own. I was always taught that an icon need only be a symbol to associate with an action - it doesn't need to represent that action unambiguously. How did a disk become save and not load? How did a file with a star become new and not "polish this" or some other meaning? –  Jeff Yates Sep 29 '10 at 16:49
    
@Jeff The question of icon vs. text boils down to discoverability/clarity vs. efficiency/screen space usage. In web apps, which are not used too frequently, the balance tilts towards discoverability. For a frequently used desktop app, using an arbitrary icon (which the user needs to learn) is a more acceptable tradeoff. –  dbkk Oct 1 '10 at 16:23
    
Web apps are not used too frequently? That's a rather sweeping claim that I have to disagree with (assuming your punctuation is in the right place). To clarify my point, I think your answer is a little too condemning if any attempt to standardize an icon for such a feature - regardless of usage. While you have a valid point that text is probably useful in this case, your overall conclusion is that it will only ever be useful to have text. I disagree. –  Jeff Yates Oct 4 '10 at 13:04
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@Jeff Most UI decisions are compromises. My suggestion holds in most cases, but certainly not all. Even the most frequently used webapps (GMail, Hotmail, GReader) rarely have icons. Flickr makes a small exception with their zoom icon which does not zoom (yuck!). –  dbkk Oct 5 '10 at 11:28
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Couldn't agree more. There's always a new trick when you're down to that last pixel of space and you need to add a new feature. –  Jeff Yates Oct 5 '10 at 14:17
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UsabilityPost put out a great article last week about false simplicity. Here's a great quote related to what has been discussed so far with this question:

In every study that considered the question, icons were demonstrated to be more difficult to understand than were labels, especially at first viewing, which contradicts one of the most frequently cited reasons for using icons, namely, comprehensibility for beginners.

I would need to understand the context of your "Follow Me" icon more to give a concrete answer, but it sounds like something that needs to be more obvious to the user.

If your layout leaves no room for a label, use a easier-to-understand button. Maybe an icon with a Twitter bird? Otherwise, use a label.

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+1 Great answer. –  Jeff Yates Oct 4 '10 at 13:05
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On a general note, icons don't have to accurately depict the operation they stand for, though as wnathanlee points out with his link to this Usability Post article icons can be pretty meaningless without context.

Yes it does help, but what's more important is that your applications icons are clear and unambiguous within the context of your application and you've made it easy for your users to find out what they mean. You also need to make sure that you are consistent with industry norms - using <- for back and -> for forwards, for example.

Tooltips and optional text help to educate people as to what icons mean, but you may have to consider using text instead.

What's the context? Is this your own web site or a gadget/widget that other people include on their web site?

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+1 to Chris's note -- and I'd also say that you should not only try to be consistent with industry norms, and more importantly be consistent inside your app: having the icon in different places it should still indicate the same thing.

Also, if it's clickable, make sure you visually represent its clickability as distinct from flat labels and text.

Finally, try to be sensitive to cultural norms -- black, white and red all have cultural significance in various countries. And colour blindness -- avoid red / green combinations as 6% of the male population have this.

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