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This Twitter post sparked me to ask the question:

totally! RT @damienguard: Dear UI designers everywhere. Stop using floppy disk icons for save. Too many people have no idea what it is now.

Floppy Disk Save Icon

So, is the floppy disk icon obsolete? Should it be replaced with something more modern and if so what?

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You might say that save buttons themselves are dead. Why not automatic saving with undo? Microsoft OneNote for example. Save buttons should be placebic in the same way that door close buttons in elevators and street crossing buttons are. –  justin.m.chase Jan 12 '11 at 22:12
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Just out of trivia (and because it intrigues me), those things must be a local specific because over here - street crossing buttons need a push to initiate a cycle (though on really crowded streets they're sometimes lit and pressed automatically). Also, I've never seen an elevator with a close button, not even the ones from ~1920 in town has one, but perhaps I'm simply too young or there's a big difference in regulations ^^ (most have a "hold door" button though to let more people in) –  Oskar Duveborn Jan 23 '11 at 18:26
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@Oskar (Los Angeles, CA here...) There are definitely some intersections where you have to press the button otherwise you will never get a walk signal but for many of them, it's going to change anyway whether you press it or not, and the button doesn't really do anything. –  MatrixFrog May 26 '11 at 18:10
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No. The floppy disk itself is dead, but not the floppy disk icon representing save. –  awe Oct 7 '11 at 13:24
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When altering business data, please keep save an explicit action. Auto-backup, sure, but only auto-save robs the user of a very important action: cancelling. –  koenmetsu Oct 22 '12 at 7:09

21 Answers 21

up vote 310 down vote accepted

The floppy disk icon is an idiom, not a metaphor. It doesn't matter that we're no longer writing files on 1.44MB 3.5" disks. It doesn't matter that many users don't even know what a floppy disk is. What matters is that users associate the icon with saving.

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Couldn't have put it better myself. –  ChrisF Jan 12 '11 at 20:56
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Metaphors are understood. Idioms are learned. Idioms must be taught. –  Vincent Robert Jan 13 '11 at 10:04
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Unless there's a more appropriate icon that is easier to learn or more intuitive, the floppy disk icon is still relevant. The people who are unable to recognize a floppy disk icon just because it's a different size/color or illustration style are going to have just as hard a time with any other save icon. That's why you add tooltips and text labels to important functionality. –  Lèse majesté Jan 26 '11 at 13:18
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Having no floppies any more makes them even the better icons. An HDD-Icon could mean there is a distinction, where you like to save your data, and many people, while using hdds, have never seen one. USB-Sticks are to widely used (as modem, wlan, drive, lock, bluetooth, ...). –  user unknown Feb 10 '11 at 8:15
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When I was in school, the class was told to "Click on the little picture of the television to save". And that was when floppy disks were still well known and used! –  TRiG Aug 4 '11 at 12:10

This question gets brought up every so often. I've found two separate threads (several years apart) on the IxDA list:

http://www.ixda.org/node/19443

http://www.ixda.org/node/23688

I thought it was discussed on UXExchange as well, but I couldn't find it.

In my opinion (and it seems to be the general consensus), the icon is ubiquitous with saving. Changing it would cause more problems than it would solve. Think of it this way - can YOU think of anything to replace it with that would be more universally understood? There really isn't anything.

The same thing holds true for the "phone" icons used on cell phones and even Skype, or (eventually) the envelope icon for email. When was the last time you saw a phone that actually looked like the old, standard handset that is almost always used as the phone icon? I doubt most kids would even know what that icon was if it wasn't the button to talk on their cell phones. Yet, it is still widely known and probably will not be going away.

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YES! Many icons represented how things looked like in the old days, and the looks of things (generally) were more consistent before. Now all things have modern designs, and does not necessary have a uniform look. So symbolic icons are better off kept the same as they have been commonly accepted to represent. Although newer generations does not know what a floppy disk is, they DO know that the symbol means "Save"! –  awe Jan 26 '11 at 13:19
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Ask a child to draw a train? What do you think you will get? A Class 42, a Deltic? No. They will draw a steamie - just about every time. It is the archetype of its class. The same goes for icons. –  Paul J. Lewis Oct 5 '12 at 12:16
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Similarly, even today the silhouette of a steam locomotive is often used to indicate a railway crossing, or a train station, etc. It is instantly recognizable even if it's obsolete since at least a half century: if you put there a modern locomotive, people would wonder whether it's a bus, a train, a tram, or something else. –  vsz Feb 21 '13 at 22:34

This is also discussed on Graphic Design where there are some good (and some bad) proposals for alternative save icons:

New generation of Save icon that is not a “disk”?

Many icons represented how things looked like in the old days, and the looks of things (generally) were more consistent before. Now all things have modern designs, and does not necessary have a uniform look. So symbolic icons are better off kept the same as they have been commonly accepted to represent. Although newer generations does not know what a floppy disk is, they DO know that the symbol means "Save"!

The folder icon Folder is also commonly used, but it took a while before I realized what it looked like! A reason for this might of course be that in the beginning (when I first experienced it) it was a much simpler version of it: Old style folder
I learned that it was the icon for a directory long before i realized that it looked like an archive folder.

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The GNOME desktop on Linux/Unix moved away from the floppy disk icon quite a while ago, and nobody seemed to mind... you can see what they use instead in this screenshot from 2008 (on the "Apri" and "Salva" icons):
Screenshot, showing a green arrow pointing down into a representation of an IDE hard-drive as the idiom for 'Save'

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Same icon that ammoQ provided as an option on Jan. 18 - To me, it looks like a download icon, not a save icon. –  Charles Boyung Feb 1 '11 at 15:53
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To me, the icon looks like a clock radio with a green arrow indicating where to click the snooze button or something. Even though it's an alternative to the floppy disc, it's not a good alternative! –  awe Feb 9 '11 at 13:28
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@Calum - the app that I had to work on at my first job was deployed to tens of thousands of users too - does that mean it is widely-deployed and we should be using it as a baseline of how to design interfaces? No, I don't think so. –  Charles Boyung Apr 22 '11 at 19:41
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@Charles Gnome is used by default by the top 3 Linux distributions: Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora. That said, by your logic one cannot use Mac stuff as examples given that Apple controls around 10% of the desktop market :) –  Atanasio Segovia Jan 12 '12 at 23:38
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I think the reason it works on this environment is because it explicitly says "Save" next to the icon. –  Jaime Garcia Mar 10 '12 at 0:35

Because the floppy disk is so widely used, it does not really make sense to change it. Specially with something like a hard disk. Why should we replace a well known icon (even the users under 18 associate the floppy disk with saving even if they don't know what it is). Especially using a hard disk, which comes into ages right know, instead. Remember that we move into the cloud era. Arrows pointing down to disk or folders are more known for downloading or importing.

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Absolutely agree. Away from computing, we still talk about power of a car as horsepower or of a lamp as candlepower, even though few people are familiar with horses and candles as sources of power. –  DaveP Mar 4 '13 at 16:30

Imho Safe is the best fresh idea for new Save icon:

safe

Words "save" and "safe" even sound similar :)

Permalink;

enter image description here

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Imo this is too complex - I had mistaken this for a screen projector at first glance. –  kontur Mar 4 '13 at 9:15
    
@kontur what is your suggestion for "Save" icon? –  webvitaly Mar 4 '13 at 10:09
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What I suggest or don't suggest as an icon is of no matter to my comment on your answer; I think the safe is hard to recognize and does not neccesairly communicate saving of state. –  kontur Mar 4 '13 at 11:27
    
@kontur I added new image of safe. IMHO now it is looks like more than safe ;) –  webvitaly Mar 4 '13 at 14:04
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But a safe would mean encrypting. In computing, safes and locks and keys and codes are already taken to mean access control and encryption. –  Nicolas Barbulesco Mar 17 '13 at 11:36

And, I suppose, a metal chain is intrinsically linked with hyperlinks, paper envelopes are required to send e-mails, and your browser's home page is an actual house?

Look past the pedantically literal and you'll see value in a metaphor that has survived, near-unchanged, for decades with no confusion and no ambiguity. Why change it now?!

Next you'll be proposing we don't even call it "save" any more; with auto-save, and auto-backups, what are saving our data from, exactly?

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+1 LOL, that's a funny yet accurate answer –  Benny MCSA Office365 Jan 4 at 18:53

I use the save to folder and load from folder icons instead (a file folder with arrow going in or out).

Even on my old XT I had a small harddrive which I usually used for saving on.

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The floppy disk icon seems neither dead nor alive, but somewhere in between on its way out. A lot of users won't recognize it as Save, though those with a lot of experience using more traditional apps like MS Office or enterprise-ware will likely be very familiar with it. If in doubt, test with your audience.

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+1 for test with your audience. This will give better answers than any discussion here on UX. –  awe Jun 19 '12 at 8:18

New "save" icon could be just letter "S". Everybody knows that "Ctrl+S" means "Save".

save icon

Or "Save" icon could be just "Cloud" icon.

cloud save icon

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I want to upvote you more because of the cloud, but that giant circle-S is so awful that I cannot bear it –  New Alexandria Aug 19 '13 at 12:52
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Meh, english only. Icons should be as language-independent as possible. –  Martijn Sep 10 '13 at 14:57
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Be careful....look your S icon far enough from your screen....it is two dolphins which dance together. We have the same effect with a logo for a ton near m'y home the S or Seyne for La Seyne Sur Mer –  pierre lebailly Oct 2 '13 at 6:03

Yes. Although the floppy icon is still understood it's at it's end-of-life. A replacement is required that's more relevant to today's user and today's context. To a user "save" means "save my new work to the file". The file itself can be floppy, hard disk, usb or the cloud). This has bugged me so I just made some quick mockups put below. I like the one on the left the most; makes it feel like "stuff goes into the file".

Samples

Credits: This derivative work is GPL'd, so use/abuse as you wish. I used pulled the green arrow (also GPL'd) from http://www.iconarchive.com/show/snowish-icons-by-saki/Arrow-right-icon.html. If you want the PSD or something, message me.

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Personally, I interpret the one on the left to mean something along the lines of 'import into document', not 'save document to disk'. –  Tharwen Jun 12 '12 at 15:04
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I understand both icons as “Import into file”. –  Nicolas Barbulesco Mar 17 '13 at 11:30

Just to back some of the previous answers with an excerpt from one of my favorite UX books "The Design of Everyday Things", in chapter 7:

7. When all else fails, standardize.

When something can't be designed without arbitrary mappings and difficulties, there is one last route: standardize. Standardize the actions, outcomes, layout, displays. Make related actions work in the same way. Standardize the system, the problem; create an international standard.

Remember, standardization is essential only when all the necessary information cannot be placed in the world or when natural mappings cannot be exploited.

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I believe we should not stop using floppy icon for save. As its widely accepted and there isnt a alternate design known. The only modification i can think of is introducing the small tooltip text for those who do not understand what floppy or any of the old icons represent.

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I see more and more the "upload into the cloud" button in stead of a floppy. I believe this will eventually replace the floppy.

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This is fair enough if you really are saving to a "cloud" storage device, but if you are saving to the local disk, server or network drive then a "cloud" icon is misleading IMO. –  w3d Jan 3 at 15:01

Last week, I was confronted with exactly this question; I decided against the floppy icon and used a arrow pointing to a harddisk instead, similar to this one:

hard disk save icon

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That looks like a "download" link to me, not a "save" link. –  Charles Boyung Jan 18 '11 at 14:25
    
@Charles I can't think of many cases where those might be confused or would represent different actions –  Bobby Jack Jan 19 '11 at 0:36
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@CharlesBoyung: Why does this look like a download link? Because it is commonly used as such. This is why also the floppy works as a save icon; it is common use. –  awe Jun 19 '12 at 8:22
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@awe - that was my point. The icon he suggests does not work as a save icon because it is commonly used for something else entirely. –  Charles Boyung Jun 19 '12 at 19:00
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@awe: No? Are you sure? –  Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 12 at 10:49

Ask anyone under 18 what a floppy disk is. Even the name floppy disk is a legacy from when they were actually floppy. Yes, it's still understood to mean save, but that's like saying "tape it" when using your DVR or calling iTunes the record store. Soon even the file folder will be outmoded.

The down arrow into a box does look like download, because it points down. Into a load? But as for a new save, is there a newer metaphor? Maybe the red dot on a video camera or a safe. Ziploc? Maybe it's check-in and should be a check. Something like the Apple time machine logo?

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Im 15 and know what floppies are –  Cole Johnson May 16 '12 at 14:14
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3.5" floppies were still floppy. It referred to the disk, inside the plastic casing, not the casing itself. –  Charles Boyung Jan 18 '13 at 22:01

When you click the save button you can save your file to your hard drive, a USB stick, an SD card, anything. It seems pointless having a picture of an arrow going toward a specific storage device, especially as anyone who knows nothing about computers will see a hard drive icon as nothing more than a grey square. The point is, you want your file to be remembered, so why not have an image of something relating to memory, e.g. a brain? (Also, I'm 15 and I know what a floppy disk is, just saying)

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But, technically speaking, the file is already in memory. Saving is writing the file from the memory to the disk. Let's not confuse things even more ! :-) –  Nicolas Barbulesco Mar 17 '13 at 11:33

In my apps I'm using a couple of different icons. Most of my apps persist to a database, so I use a "transitional" icon, with the floppy in front of a set of "database disks" somewhat like this:

http://www.artistsvalley.com/images/icons/Database%20Application%20Icons/Database%20Save/256x256/Database%20Save.jpg

Cylinders are known from flow-chart land as data stores, but with flow-charting being a relatively technical thing in the first place, this isn't ideal as an intuitive icon either. Someone might think this looks like a water cooler tank.

For another app, I just use a green checkmark, and the command is to "Commit Changes" instead of "Save". Everything is just data in the DB, no files, and icons for DBs as we discussed are not very intuitive.

In all cases in my apps, the icon does not stand alone; there's always text for the command being performed, such as "Save", "Commit Changes", "Refresh/Revert", etc, even in toolbars. The icon's just a focusing point for mouse clicks, because people are used to the idea that small pictures do something when you click them, while text is trickier to indicate as "active" (and the main things we think of, underlined blue links, have a navigational context; they take you somewhere else).

On the topic of "real-time persistence", we have an environment (a flavor of the Great Plains accounting package) that uses this system; change a field value and it goes to the data store as soon as you tab or mouse out. Our users hate it. Hate it. They not only want to choose when to save their changes, they want a confirmation dialog that it happened successfully.

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I think a green checkmark is closest to the best general alternative to the floppy icon. –  awe Aug 19 '13 at 12:00
    
@Urbycoz ... as I stated in my answer in the very next paragraph after the image. –  KeithS Aug 27 at 15:28

For what it's worth, here's an article from Boxes and Arrows about a survey of 18- to 25-year-olds regarding exactly this issue.

In summary, the research found that 96% of respondents recognized the floppy disk, and 80% said it represented save. Other icons surveyed included voicemail, link, and search.

For those who don't want to click through, the article concludes:

Ultimately, the most important thing is to have icons that make it clear to as many people as possible what they do in the interface. It’s better to have 80% of users see the floppy disk, dig back into their memories of childhood technology and connect to this image as representing the act of saving, than have 100% of users see a downward facing arrow and wonder what it means.

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The artifact represented by the icon (the 3.5" diskette) is well past its sell by date or even recognition (some usability studies I've been in have users referring to it as the washing machine or dishwasher icon..;), however the metaphor of what it represents - saving data - persists. Plenty of other examples abound (financial apps using checkbooks for reconciliation, the iPhone using the old-style Larry King-type microphone for recording), and so on.

I would suggest the icon is fine for most users who want to explicitly save content - the context of use is clear and metaphor is strong.

A straw poll on whether replacing it with cloud or pendrive icon option is here: http://polarb.com/9772 YMMV with such a crowdsourced poll. Ultimately, I think the question reminds us never to assume anything with users, but to test it in realistic contexts and design and deploy accordingly. In these days of automatic saves, backups, influence of implicit save models on mobile device and how user expectations are changing, that testing best practice comes to the fore now even more.

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How is this statement backed up? "Too many people have no idea what it is now." Are there usability studies backing this up or is this just an assumption based on opinion? If it is true that the floppy disc for save has become unrecognizable (or unfamiliar/not intuitive), then the problem to solve is to define an alternative. A new paradigm would need to be established. This would be a huge learning curve, considering this icon is so prevalently used. In this case, learning something new doesn't seem to outweigh the need for others to simply become familiar with the existing paradigm. –  Dmacatude Mar 5 at 13:42

There are a lot of statements about the Save icon being obsolete, but I don't see any proof of that. In fact, a couple of 15 year olds on this post have stated that they know what a floppy disc is.

We just completed some user testing for a web application. One of the utility icons is an icon that allows you to save a report in a PDF format to your computer. We used a "download" icon. You know, the horizontal tray with the arrow pointing down?

More than one participant said that the download icon was confusing, and specifically suggested that the standard "floppy disk" icon be used to indicate saving. Using the download icon turned out to be confusing.

As others have said, the save disc icon is widely known for saving. Changing that would potentially cause more problems than keeping it as is.

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But you aren't saving, you're downloading the fact that your user thought he was saving only evidences that he was already confused. –  VoronoiPotato Jan 15 at 20:13
    
In the case of our study, the download icon was more ambiguous and therefore more confusing to users. The page was read-only lab results with a utility bar with print/download (save to local machine), email and delete icons. Since it was read-only, it's not like the user would be confused about what the save icon would mean since nothing on the screen is editable. I guess my question is, is there really a difference between "download" and "save" to the end user if nothing on the screen can be edited, and if the save function is a utility icon and not a "Save" button? –  Dmacatude Jan 20 at 17:46

protected by JonW Oct 2 '13 at 15:58

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