I'm currently wireframing/"UXing" and doing the front-end dev work on the rebuild of a reasonably big intranet app with lots of data in various sections. To make things easier for the users to pick out the required data/section/whatever, I've made use (sparingly) of relevant icons so that they can scan the page and see exactly what they want without having to read everything/anything. For example, data/section relevant to credit cards has a small credit card icon, first aid has a red cross, telephone directory has, you guessed, it a telephone...
This is all brilliant, and so far the users have been getting "excited" about it, but I have a ton of other stuff where there is no specifically relevant icon. Is there any value in using "irrelevant" icons throughout the interface? For example, I have a section called "change", and I've used a fish icon - it stands out, and as users will be looking at the app often, they'll very quickly know what the fish means. As an analogy, I was thinking how mush easier it is to pick users out by their avatar (think Twitter in this instance) to identify their content rather than reading the names.
From a UX perspective:
- is there any value in this for users, to make their lives easier? For the sake of consistency, I'd rather use icons for either all the content areas (say, 75% has a well-fitting icon already) or none at all, but feedback so far suggests that they're a big win for ease-of-use, so there's still 25% possibly facing being assigned "irrelevant" icons.
- is there any particular reason not to use a mismatched icon for certain types of content? My thinking being that the icon is only a visual cue to be associated with and not representative of the content itself.
- is there a better way of identifying/demarcating hard-to-label content? (I'm not looking for a list of what icons might be suitable for obscure content, more if there are perhaps alternative systems for labelling things that don't fit into "well-known" categories/divisions (I can't think of anything)). As this is a rebuild on an existing database, I can't start rearranging data structure/changing names/re-categorising anything, sadly.
- FUN! Odd final point, but I like to make my apps "fun", as in not horrible dullard dry things that users dread using. Hence using the fish, to simply make the interface more "interesting". I always do this when I can (providing it doesn't detract from the functionality/usability of course), is there anything wrong with that?