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I have a doubt about the appropriateness of using the @ sign on an icon, to mean something related to email.

For instance, a project I am involved into uses it the following ways:

  • On a contact information screen, phones numbers and the email address of a person are shown. Each line begins with an icon to differentiate the home, work, cell phones. The email line begin with an @ icon with no other decoration.

  • An email reading app under development has the @ and an envelope on both on the icon and the splash screen, the @ being much bigger than the envelope.

Now, here are the reasons I am doubting of such choices (I did not participate to the design), especially as of 2012:

  • The @ icon for email reminds of the 2000s Internet era, with animated GIFS scattered on webpages, a famous one being the spinning 3-dimentional @ to say "contact me by email".

  • Twitter, which did not exist at that time, uses the @ extensively.

  • In French cities, in districts where a majority of migrants live, there are tiny shops called "taxiphones" that offer Internet acces and cheap calls to their home countries (Africa, Asia...). The standard sign for such a shop is compound of two alternating flashing neons: a blue telephone handset and a red @. Here, the @ conveys the idea of Internet, not restricted to email.

I think the @ can be used, but should not be the most emphasized part of the icon. What is your opinion on this? Which image is appropriate to convey the idea of email today?

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Yeah, I think @ is more associated with a reference to a user/person now - and not just from twitter –  LDMS Aug 22 '12 at 22:56
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5 Answers 5

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It depends on the context.

The argument against using just a letter to represent email is that it's a skeuomorph and could be confused with postal address. It only makes sense to use just a letter in a context where it has to refer to email.

So in the context of listing various contact information a letter combined with an @ symbol would be best. And in the context of an email app the @ symbol is superfluous and a just letter will do (although if the app also displays contact information then in that part of the app a different icon could be used).

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Twitter may be popular, but it is no way near as prolific as email is. remember just because you know and use twitter, and there are a few million people using it, does not mean that it is taking over the @ symbol for the rest of the luddites out there that are use to or just learning about the internet and know that the @ symbol means and has been associated for 20 years with email.

I always forget about things like that, then I just ask my parents what they think of something like that, and they say... "twitter? i've heard of it but i have no use for things like that. I just don't know how they work..." My dad is a recently retired programmer, and my mother used to work in network administration, so they aren't technically illiterate people, just not up on, nor do they care about things like that now, and there are a lot more of them than there are of the rest of us.

that said, when you mentioned "The @ icon for email reminds of the 2000s Internet era" i Instantly thought of the gold 3D @ symbol spinning around on a black starry background complete with #0000FF colored text, before I even got past your comma.

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No, not really. A letter is probably the convention today. At least if you trust Google image search: enter image description here

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I would recommend going for a simple mail icon such as this enter image description here

Its commonly symbolic with electronic mail nowadays.

With regards to the use of @, I would still say its commonly used to denote email though the combinations I have seen generally combine the envelope and the @ to highlight that is an electronic email.

enter image description here

Though twitter does use @ extensively,it uses it internally to indicate users and the common icon used to indicate twitter is the twitter logo or a variation of it

enter image description here

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The @ sign should not primarily be used to indicate emails. The envelope is a much wider adopted symbol. It can be interpreted as a global message indicator. You can find it in text message applications, email applications and even in old school mailboxes.

And don't get me wrong, but if you are able to browse to a website you will be able to recognise a clickable link. Which then guides you to your mail application. The presence of the @ sign in the emailadress itself should be enough.

So to conclude, use a 'classic' envelope icon and use the @ sign as an addition (often present in the address).

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Good comment. Shame it is not possible to accept multiple answers. The aforementioned project is more into the embedded app domain; thanks for the tip anyway! –  DavLink Aug 22 '12 at 16:02
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