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We have a stand alone application on our site that uses realtime video/audio. We are in the process of adding a connection speed icon but it seems we have some disagreements on the icon that should be used.

This icon will show users how consistent/stable the video/audio connection is. Would this be better shown with bars or a connection speed icon?

My personal view is that this is a connection speed icon, and not signal strength. Signal Strength in my mind is more for mobile.

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closed as off-topic by JohnGB, Charles Wesley, 3nafish, rk., Daniel Newman Aug 13 '13 at 22:03

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  • "Questions requesting Icon Suggestions are off topic. While the subject of icons is on topic, there's very little value in soliciting suggestions for a specific icon in a specific context. See this meta post for more information about this topic." – JohnGB, Charles Wesley, 3nafish, rk., Daniel Newman
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It appears you're trying to measure available bandwidth. You are correct in that this is not signal strength. As for what particular icon to use, I'd avoid using anything that looks like signal strength. Other than that, it's really whatever fits the UI you're building. –  DA01 Aug 10 '13 at 0:10
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FWIW the connection speed icon you link to seems more like the icon that signal whether there is a WiFi connection. It may be used to indicate signal strength, but I haven't seen it used yet for connection speed. –  Marjan Venema Aug 10 '13 at 10:18
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3 Answers 3

You've linked two icons that, generally speaking, refer to the signal strength of specific technologies.

The "connection speed" icon is typically used for WIFI connections. Take a look at the results of a Google Image search for "wifi icon." You'll see a similarity in the semiotics used.

https://www.google.com/search?q=wifi+icon&safe=active&source=lnms

The "bars" icons is typically used for mobile networks. Performing a Google Image search for "mobile signal strength icon" you will see a pattern in those semiotics.

https://www.google.com/search?safe=active&site=&tbm=isch&q=mobile+signal+strength+icon&oq=mobile+signal+strength+icon

If your "stand alone application" is showing an indication of WIFI signal strength, use the former. If your application is showing signal strength for mobile networks, use the latter.

Over time, users have developed an expectation of meaning associated with these icons. If you show the "wifi icon" users will interpret that as "wifi connection strength." If you use "bars" users will interpret that to mean "mobile network connection strenght." If you are aiming to show some aggregate signal or perhaps a bandwidth indicator a-la streaming video, then I caution against using either of the mentioned icons. Instead, use a meter of some kind (Like Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Instant, etc).

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Please clarify "not strictly WIFI or Mobile." If you are talking about a wireline connection, signal strength isn't very useful. If you are talking about other technologies (satellite, radio), you should consider using icons that fit that tech. If you are talking about a combined signal strength, perhaps a new icon is needed. You run the risk of confusing users if you use existing icons and semiotics. –  mawcsco Aug 9 '13 at 19:03
    
This is a realtime connection to a network that displays video/audio. It's not strictly WIFI or Mobile. For example I could be connected through a Lanline as well. The icon like I stated is to inform users how consistent stable the live stream is. –  user34427 Aug 9 '13 at 19:04
    
Router connection speed is typically done with colored dots Red|Orange|Yellow|Green. Windows uses bars to show the signal quality of a wireless connection. If you do a google search for "connection speed icons" you get both the images listed above. –  user34427 Aug 9 '13 at 19:25
    
Just because it's done, doesn't make it right/good. I've personally heard a Windows user ask, "How does Windows know my cell phone strength?" Windows is no stranger to disappointing UX nngroup.com/articles/windows-8-disappointing-usability –  mawcsco Aug 9 '13 at 21:55
    
I am not saying windows is right. I am just pointing out the different uses of these icons. Thank you for the feedback. –  user34427 Aug 12 '13 at 12:03
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I think that the signal strength metaphor is the most intuitive. Especially if you are summarizing multiple aspects of the connection.

I think color is probably the most important aspect of this. As long as you have some symbol that is clearly associated with networking/connection/etc, you should be fine. The user will understand the status it turns red/yellow/green.

signal strength


WiFi icons remind me too much of wifi reception specifically.

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Well with most people here looking at the bars I will give it more consideration. Thank you for the response. –  user34427 Aug 12 '13 at 12:09
    
@DesignerGuy said "I think color is probably the most important aspect of this." About 17% of people contend with colorblindness and as much as 10% of males contend with red-green colorblindness (deuteranopia). Using only red and green colors to distinguish icons ignores that population. –  mawcsco Aug 26 '13 at 17:44
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Does user make some decision based on connection speed? What is utility of this icon?

  • If he doesn't, maybe there is no need for that icon? Instead you could automatically broadcast the stream for appropriate connection speed.
  • If he does, the icon should be understandable for user and having no confusion with Mobile or WiFi connection. Maybe just text label with connection speed (or its quality) will be good.

Conserning connection stability, it's better to show explicitly broken status on main application area, where user attention is placed (like Youtube does). Other way users will be guessing what the problem is and just some of them could find and interpret appropriate icon.

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Text is an interesting idea I had not considered. If the speed is very low they are fed static images. Thank you for the feedback. –  user34427 Aug 12 '13 at 12:06
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