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I know that there are good reasons to abandon animated icons in a taskbar UI-wise. But good reasons never kept people from doing stupid stuff: So why are there no animated taskbar icons at all anymore? Postboxes that wave when they receive a new mail, IM icons that blink when there's a new message, browsers that show alters when something is happening on a website. The only animation there is - in the windows and os x world I know - is the (green) progress bar.

I'm pretty sure once upon a time there were lots and lots of animated taskbar icons. Does anyone have an explanation? Has someone patented this principle? Is there an historical reason? Or is it just that MS and Apple for example enforce a no-noise policy on system wide app displays (=icons)?

(and yes, I've seen Bringing Icons To Life)

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2 Answers 2

Animated interfaces still exist, they've just gotten more mature. A few examples:

  • When an application in OS X needs your attention, it's icon jumps in the tray.
  • An application that needs your attention in Windows will pulse its tray icon yellow (I think, I don't use Windows often).
  • When a tab is loading in Firefox, the favicon in the tab turns into an orbiting electron.

Blink still exists, and I'm pretty sure if someone wanted an icon to do something in a taskbar, in their application, they could still program it as such. Apple, Microsoft, can't really stop an independent shop from doing that in their application.

It makes sense on its face, that designers get that people hate dancing icons in taskbars, and some/many/most/all designers dislike such elements themselves, so they stopped doing it. "A professional can make mistakes, they just shouldn't make the same mistake twice," is an apt platitude. New animations are more refined as a result of the trial and error of their work.

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I suppose it is more historically motivated reason, that there are less animated icons, than affected by guidlines or straightforward implications of system developers.

In modern popular systems the level of qualification required to do stuff is higher than it was in first times, and different de-facto standards and market reasons make it harder to make amateur and ugly solutions popular.

But almost every new interface ecosystem goes through "black shadows, blinking and animated icons" stage — for instance, it was much more popular in first Android apps than nowadays, and it is still popular in in-house business software, which is often not designed by UX-specialists (i.e. not affected by culture of development) and is made by rather amateur programmers from the beginning to end.

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Uh, "... by programmers ...", really, really hope you didn't intend to imply that programmers are UX-ignorant by nature? –  Marjan Venema Feb 23 '13 at 19:09
    
@MarjanVenema Sorry, I didn't mean any absolutization. Most programmers I work right now with have the vision of UX and some of them follow UX tendencies and read blogs/books etc. But in my personal practice I often meet ugly products, that were made for internal use by only one amateur specialist, "jack of all trades", and the lack of professional differentiation AND external influences/ideas/control often leads to poor software — with rare exceptions. And the more complex software is — the more differentiation is important. –  Alex Ovtcharenko Feb 23 '13 at 23:21
    
@MarjanVenema made an edit for clarification :) –  Alex Ovtcharenko Feb 23 '13 at 23:25
    
I have seen these products as well. They certainly aren't examples of best practices. However you may want to bear in mind that they may have been made by good willing enthousiasts doing the best they can. They may in fact know better but work for an employer unwilling or unable to spend the time/resources needed to make a better job of it. In other words: don't be so quick to make judgements: there are always factors that you are not aware of. –  Marjan Venema Feb 24 '13 at 11:23
    
Thanks for your explanation. Still I wonder why there is nothing animated anymore. A postbox icon that signals if there's new mail is a good idea. But there's even no "xy unread mails" blop in windows and on apple just for apple apps (I think). To me this looks like there's another reason that keeps icons from being animated. –  Felix Feb 24 '13 at 13:54

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