83

I'm specifying a dedicated USB cable for a product, but it won't be a full cable, it will be missing the center conductors. In other words, it is functionally equivalent to a "charge only" USB cable.

What graphic treatment might work, so consumers don't later confuse this with a full USB cable capable of transmitting data?

Here's a picture of the cable prototype all torn apart, and the standard USB logo: Charge Only Cable Logo Graphic Symbol

I've checked with the USB implementors forum, and there's no dedicated logo for this case.

Update in response to all the comments: I'm a consulting engineer, and don't set the project specifications. Here my client wanted the most flexible possible flat cable. My client's needs come first.

The power wires needed to be at least 22 gauge given 2 amp draw over this 2 meter cable (note the unjacketed copper bundles with nylon threads to make up the missing strength). Adding the data wires would add stiffness with no immediate increase in functionality for my client's product needs.

The described cable is meant to power a given product. It's irrelevant what the device does or does not do with data lines.

The UX question on the table is how to mark such cables to lower user frustration later, when the cable gets stuffed in a drawer after the product itself is obsolete.

  • 19
    What harm would it do if you just used a standard USB cable with the data bit? I think you need to understand what the U in the acronym USB actually stands for - Universal. – SteveD Jan 11 '17 at 10:04
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    @SteveD charging from an untrusted computer for example. – André Borie Jan 11 '17 at 10:47
  • 33
    Don't USB devices use the data link to test for quick charge? IIRC you need to play with a resistor to 'fool' the device into using quick charge if you cut the data links. Also, this product isn't very unique anymore, so I don't know how you're planning to get this on the market at a competitive price – BlueCacti Jan 11 '17 at 11:08
  • 108
    Thank you for worrying about this. Charge-only USB cables without any special marking are a constant annoyance. – Heinzi Jan 11 '17 at 12:45
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    I feel like there is way to much discussion on the product itself and not the UX question that was asked. This isn't startups.stackexchange we can give advice on how to improve experience without trying to discredit OP's business/product. – DasBeasto Jan 11 '17 at 19:51

20 Answers 20

120

Unfortunately such cable is not compliant with USB specification, as even in usb power delivery the data lines are used to negotiate power.

You should not mark it with USB (or even USB-like) logo at all. Plug's distinctive shape is informative enough to be easily recognizable as in "where does this plug go". I concur with other answers suggesting lightning-shaped logo and red color (if you can have the color). Perhaps even go further - if your cable is designed to safely charge smartphones from untrusted sources, then feature your "data isolator" logo. In other words: highlight what the cable doesn't do (how it's different) instead of what it does.

//edit: nekomatic's answer made me realize that these days a battery icon conveys "powering" way better than a lighting-shaped one. Even if the power is continuous instead of charging.

  • 44
    +1 for mentioning USB specification compliance. My mind was on it but I didn't want to leaf through it. – TernaryTopiary Jan 11 '17 at 12:26
  • 5
    I'd go so far as to suggest standard USB cable but with a power only adaptor for either end. The cable cannot then be mistaken as a normal USB cable by the user, and the adaptor can both take on-board any of the suggestions here (colour, logos etc) while also not appearing as any other common USB device. (in fact, these already exist. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/… lh3.googleusercontent.com/-MRuqcjulBVg/VHkAcA8kxVI/AAAAAAAAAMo/…) – Baldrickk Jan 11 '17 at 16:13
  • 3
    That's OK, nobody else follows the spec either – Wayne Werner Jan 11 '17 at 20:32
  • 54
    @WayneWerner: It's not OK! There are many ways to make the world better: give to charity, recycle, reduce your energy consumption, design USB products according to spec, do volunteer work... – Marcks Thomas Jan 11 '17 at 22:29
  • 3
    I read all the specs. Surprising it's fine so long as you can't draw more than 100mA. – Joshua Jan 12 '17 at 4:35
76

You can never beat straight text ("Power Only"); that way, there can be no confusion.

That said, I actually have such a cable at home which has an icon very similar to this in a raised profile on the connector:

USB Power Logo from Shutterstock

It would be nice to look to the creator(s) of the standard USB icon for inspiration, meaning and thus cues for how to adapt it to mean "power only", however one seems to find only many references to Neptune's trident and how the shapes represent "many devices". Example.

I have also seen anecdotes from the walled garden of information that is Quora claiming that the Circle and Square represent 5V and Ground respectively (the triangle represents data), but I think this is completely unverifiable speculation.

You may like to consider a hybrid logo between some sort of lightning bolt and the USB logo perhaps, but I think that as there's no clear understanding or agreement on a deeper meaning to the logo, even among members of the public, I'd be careful when changing the design.

-EDIT-

Having thought about it some more, really, the problem is that no matter what you put there, the user isn't likely to pay attention to the subtle (relatively speaking; one cable looks like another and statistically speaking they behave very similarly) marking on the plugs and learn the hard way after several futile minutes of trying to get their device to communicate.

Depending on the economics of the situation, what you could do instead is have a cable that looked fundamentally different to normal cables (different plug shape, plug color, cable color, cable material, etc) to grab the attention of users, so that they they would be more likely to investigate further to determine the cause of discrepancy.

-EDIT-

Another datapoint: I found such a cable while tidying an office. It was a standard-looking black USB cable with a label tag saying "NO DATA".

  • 4
    +1 for a different cable to grab the attention of the user – Alvaro Jan 11 '17 at 10:51
  • 23
    "you can never beat text", well, unless you don't speak the language? Also, a symbol is often more "immediately" graspable. So -1 for that. :) – KlaymenDK Jan 11 '17 at 13:20
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    "the Circle and Square represent 5V and Ground respectively" -- I have always understood it as "devices of odd nature, connected to the same socket", which is (imho) a much more direct interpretation. – KlaymenDK Jan 11 '17 at 13:21
  • 4
    Also a bastardised USB logo might fall foul of trademark regs. – Chris H Jan 11 '17 at 13:36
  • 7
    The USB logo is trademarked, so any hybrid symbol would need to be approved by the USB Implementors Forum. – Mark Jan 11 '17 at 20:09
34

As others have stated, icons are unlikely to be seen.

As this question shows, a common way to solve this is to make the cable end visually distinct using colour.

enter image description here

In this case, the red end is power only.

You could combine both ends, using a ⚡ or ⏻ symbol and the colour red. That would probably be useful for people with colour blindness.

  • 3
    Would also suggest yellow for electricity. – TernaryTopiary Jan 11 '17 at 12:30
  • 4
    @TernaryTopiary yellow is frequently associated with 12V in computer power supply standards. Red wires are 5V usually. – Tom Carpenter Jan 11 '17 at 18:50
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    If you can't make it good, make it big. If you can't make it big, make it red. – SPavel Jan 11 '17 at 20:49
  • 11
    @SPavel red cables go faster after all. – TernaryTopiary Jan 12 '17 at 5:31
  • To make it even more obvious that its non-standard you could change the shape of the plastic moulding the metal bit fits into - so that it was triangular rather than rectangular in section. And Red. And had an icon on it for good measure. – PhillipW Jan 13 '17 at 15:13
30

Leaving aside the question of whether there's a better solution than a custom USB cable, if the 'lightning bolt' symbol is not obvious enough, or is too similar to the Thunderbolt symbol, an alternative could be a 'battery' symbol:

battery icon (original artwork by me)

Colouring one end differently, and/or attaching a label with text e.g. POWER ONLY NO DATA as well as any symbol used, could also be helpful cues to differentiate the cable from a standard USB one.

  • 4
    Good one. You've made me realize that a battery conveys "electric power" way better than a lightning bolt this days. – Agent_L Jan 12 '17 at 9:41
  • 3
    @Agent_L especially since Apple's new chargers are called Lightning plugs – BruceWayne Jan 13 '17 at 15:18
  • Or the schematic symbol for battery..... – keshlam Jan 15 '17 at 4:06
26

It's not the answer you want, but it might be the answer you need...

Whatever graphical treatment you apply to your product, it will never fully convey the difference between 'charge-only' and 'charge and data'. Users are too busy, too ignorant (not in a bad way) or too indifferent to pick up on the minor change in something that's often barely visible in the first place (think about someone reaching around the back of their PC under their desk to plug one of these in).

USB already has UX issues 'One does not simply plug in a USB first time', so the very existence of another type of USB cable, one that does one thing less than the standard one, will definitely create more confusion, never less, than at present.

No doubt there are pressing commercial reasons why you have to have yet another cable that does something fractionally different than the standard cable, but this will not benefit the user experience, only cause confusion.

  • What icon you choose, which, following current conventions would either be a lightning bolt on its own or combined with the standard USB icon, is not going obviate the inevitable confusion of 'why doesn't this USB cable transmit data like all my other ones? Oh, it looks like the icon is a little different...'

As your cable does less, not more, than the standard, very cheap, popular and versatile version, I would question whether this product needs to exist at all - but it's your call as to whether this is commercially viable business opportunity.

Hope that helps.

  • 20
    This product has its uses, let's say you want to charge your phone on your computer without all this iTunes/Autoplay stuff popping up, or charging from an untrusted machine. – André Borie Jan 11 '17 at 10:46
  • 3
    While the proposed solution meets the stated objective, I believe the overall experience would be degraded by increasing the variability of the cables. I rely on USB's to work without thinking about them. A 'trust this computer' prompt is trivial compared to not having access to the right cable due to confusion. – cheersphilip Jan 11 '17 at 11:18
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    What if the "trust this computer" prompt is vulnerable? (especially thinking about Android devices here which never get any updates) – André Borie Jan 11 '17 at 11:23
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    @cheersphilip: My iPod is unusable when plugged into my car's USB port because the car replaces its controls with a buggy user interface. – supercat Jan 11 '17 at 16:43
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    @AndréBorie The asker says they are designing this cable for a product, in which case there is no reason they can't just disconnect the data lines inside the product. – user253751 Jan 11 '17 at 21:16
20

What about something simple like the text "No data"? Should convey the meaning clearly enough.

  • 23
    - Of course it has no data, the photos are not in the cable but in my phone! -said Granny – Ángel Jan 12 '17 at 0:03
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    As mentioned in the comments for my answer, localization concerns exist. Ideally you'd want a good logo and text. – TernaryTopiary Jan 12 '17 at 5:40
  • OP Here: Two concerns: 1) The negative "no" may create concern in the minds of people who had no reason to care. 2) That only works for English. The market for electronics is global. – Bryce Jan 15 '17 at 21:18
  • I'd prefer "Power Only" or "Power only, Not for data" if space can be found. (But only if the product will never be sold outside the Anglosphere. Otherwise make it red and put a battery symbol on it, as per another answer). – nigel222 Jan 19 '17 at 10:15
19

Once you've found a bad solution and all the other solutions are worse, it's time to look at the other other solutions.

A great example for this is Windows 95, which required the user to click on "start" in order to "shut down". The reason was that the designers couldn't find a better place to put the "shut down" button. The simple solution was to look beyond where to place the "shut down" button and instead remove the misleading "start" label from the Windows button.

A USB cable that isn't USB is bad, no matter how it's labeled. USB cables should be USB cables. Making a broken USB cable instead of a working one doesn't even reduce cost, because USB cables are commodities - a custom cable with a custom label will almost certainly be more expensive. There are better alternatives. To list 3 of them which may or may not work in your specific situation:

  • Kill the data line in the device instead of in the cable.
  • Don't use a USB connector. Hundreds of other power connectors exist, and some of them are even standardized.

enter image description here

  • If the cable is the product, make it an adapter instead of a cable. If people have a USB adapter with one end USB A male and the other end USB A female, they will be far less likely to use it accidentally, and will be inclined to look at the label. In this case you have much more space than you have on just a connector, so I'd suggest using a descriptive product logo instead of just a descriptive label. The logo would then depend a lot on the product name ("BugKill", "AllPower", "USBCondom", "SaferCharge").

enter image description here

  • 3
    You have good points here. I like the last option, specially, but doesn't: "they will be far less likely to use it accidentally, and will be inclined to look at the label" bring us to the initial question? – Alvaro Jan 16 '17 at 15:39
  • 1
    @Alvaro Ironically, yes. But if indeed the data condom is the product, I'd suggest using a product logo that conveys the meaning, rather than just a label, which is a bit different from the question. Hmm.. I guess I should add this to the answer. – Peter Jan 16 '17 at 15:43
  • ISTR there is a Euro directive that USB will be used, so that chargers are universally interchangeable between phones and other small rechargeable consumer gadgets. From an environmental perspective, this is a good thing. A barrel connector would not be allowed, except as a replacement cable for a legacy product. – nigel222 Jan 19 '17 at 10:21
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    @nigel222 This is incomplete information. In the case of EU phones, one end USB is sufficient, that's why Apple is allowed to sell phones. If full USB were required a broken USB cable would not satisfy the requirement either. Also, if the cable were meant to be packaged with a phone, producing a more expensive cable that creates a bad user experience and a lot of expensive support calls isn't anything anyone would want to do, so we can safely say this cable is not going to be packaged with a new phone. – Peter Jan 19 '17 at 12:05
  • @Peter But aren't Apple obliged to supply an iPhone to USB charger dongle with an iPhone to make it comply, so it can be charged from any USB charger? Also are "phone" chargers that don't provide a USB output still allowed? (I was referring to the USB connector, not to USB data wiring or lack of). – nigel222 Jan 19 '17 at 12:21
14

@TernaryTopiary has a great answer, I wanted to add some thoughts in case they are useful to determine a solution.

Basically a USB cable could:

  • transfer data from a device to another
  • transfer battery (energy) from a device to another

In your case the cable is not doing one of the two, so you could try to communicate:

  • "energy transfer ONLY"
  • "No data transfer"

The "No data transfer" approach tells what the USB cable doesn't do. It assumes the user knows that a common USB can transfer and/or charge. So it is telling "Doesn't transfer data" explicitly but "Transfers energy" implicitly. About the symbol it could be Arrow up & down crossed, "No data transfer" (but I guess you are looking for symbols).


An alternative is to indicate the options an average user would expect (power and data transfer) and cross out the data one. Something like:

  • 6
    I would not get this. – Tero Lahtinen Jan 13 '17 at 16:59
  • 4
    Maybe. Though what you drew is data going into a power pin. The USB connector is (1) power, (2&3) data, (4) ground. – Bryce Jan 15 '17 at 21:20
  • Better all words "Power only, not for data", but this and the original both completely fail outside the Anglosphere. – nigel222 Jan 19 '17 at 10:26
11

This would perhaps be one for the tech-savvy but how about labelling it 10101010 as a crossed out series of bits. That could be printed on the cable itself, while better on the plug or a label hanging off the cable like you get on a lot of webcams would be:

symbol for "no data"

(the font is hack, and that's 8-bit ASCII for USB)

  • @Floris if you've got to display something, might as well make it something relevant. And 3 lines looked better than the 4 that would be taken up by 01100100 01100001 01110100 01100001. – Chris H Jan 17 '17 at 16:56
9

USB already has UX issues, and the user isn't going to pay too much attention to what's on the connector in any case.

The real question here is how do you want the user view the cable? Do they see it as "the special cable that goes with product X" or do they see it as a normal USB cable, thrown together with all the others in the cable drawer?

If you want it to be a special cable:

  • make the entire thing some bright color that goes with your brand. (Apple does this with white). You can do mylar over the cable to change the color too.

  • put a special, unusual connector on the other end. My fitbit does this. It's now "fitbit cable" in my head.

  • combine the above for best results.

If you want the user to see it as a normal USB cable

  • make it work like normal (with data pins).

  • disconnect the data pins from inside the device itself.

  • then you don't even need to make your own cable.

  • +1 for the suggestion to change the device, not the cable. Making a new cable that behaves differently from but looks similar/identical to another is a source of confusion. Then again, how do you implement that on the device? Multiple ports? A custom, transformable port? Might be a useful patent in there if one could come up with a cheap and robust solution. – Amani Kilumanga Jan 12 '17 at 6:40
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    -1 for suggesting an unusual connector. I thought people have learned their lesson. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 12 '17 at 13:15
  • @Dmitry I am not experienced enough with UX to debate the advantages/disadvantages of custom connectors. Custom connectors do have their place, and it depends on what the product is and the application of the cable to determine if that's a bad idea. I wouldn't say blanket statement like "custom is bad" so easily. – user56701 Jan 12 '17 at 15:13
  • @Amani from an electrical point of view, it wouldn't be too difficult. The data ports could easily be enabled/disabled electrically. – user56701 Jan 12 '17 at 15:15
  • OP Here: it's a special cable that goes with a given product. The color, edge sharpness and surface texture match the product. It powers the product, the product does not require data lines. – Bryce Jan 15 '17 at 21:21
9

I've came up with two different ideas:

  1. With two sets of Icons, one with "Data Transfer + Power" and other with "No Data Transfer, Power only". (Image 1)
  2. Icon and Text stating "No Data Transfer". (Image 2)

Image 1Image 2

  • 3
    That icon doesn't look like "data transfer" to me. My first guess what this icon could mean would be something related to physically turning or moving the USB plug. My second guess would be "[not] hotplug-capable". – Philipp Jan 13 '17 at 15:18
  • 2
    @Philipp it looks more like synchronization to me... – beppe9000 Jan 14 '17 at 9:58
  • @Philipp The icon you were talking about represents synchronisation (most common icon for data sync) as beppe9000 said , in layman terms we can call it as data transfer. – Anunay Mahajan Jan 15 '17 at 13:00
6

You can make the cable very short and use it together with ordinary USB cable. That way users are won't use your power-only cable as extension cord, because it's too short.

  • Ya beat me to it -- don't buy an expensive neutered cable, just put a data-condom on the one you have. – keshlam Jan 15 '17 at 4:08
  • 1
    OP Here: the product requirements are for a 2 meter long cable. The client wanted even longer actually. – Bryce Jan 15 '17 at 21:22
0

I don't think your going to convey the existence of a charge only cable with just an icon. No matter what you do, your going to have people that get upset that there cable isn't connecting.

So instead I suggest you use a more tactile approach. Have it be a two part connection. A round part like common DC transformers, that slides into a USB shaped adapter. You don't have to increase the product size, but the pull off end, and the physical activity, along with the common shape of the round part, and maybe even a blinking "charging" light, will certainly get the idea across.

You want the product to fit in a USB hole, but you do not want it to look (or work) anything like a normal USB cable.

Also keep in mind, you will need to avoid calling this USB in any way. USB and it's logo are actually licensed for use, and you have to meet certain criteria in order to call your product USB compatible (though there are lots of ways around it).

0

I think more or less this question has been answered. A good symbol communicating that data transfer cannot happen with this cable is needed.

An example is shown below that shows the cell and PC with a blocked icon in the background.

enter image description here

-1

Similarly to how USB 3.0 plastic uses blue ("Pantone 300C") color coding to differentiate it from USB 2.0, a unique color could be used for Power only USB.

enter image description here

USB 3.0 on the left, proposed yellow on the right.

  • 4
    Has there ever been a survey to figure out how many non-IT people know what's different about the blue USB cables? I guess far fewer than 10% know anything about this. – Peter Jan 17 '17 at 14:02
  • @Peter I have no idea. I can guess the non tech user probably doesn't understand the difference. However, I believe that doesn't imply a yellow color = charge only wouldn't be recognisable/understood. – Alvaro Jan 17 '17 at 21:46
  • 1
    In addition to the "what does this mean?" problem, yellow is already informally used to indicate sockets that remain powered even when the host device is turned off. – Mark Jan 17 '17 at 22:36
  • Thanks @Mark . The color could be different of course, but it is difficult to beat the "what does this mean?" problem. – Alvaro Jan 17 '17 at 22:39
-2

My first instinct was to use an image of a condom (since that's the colloquial name where I'm from for cables/adapters that don't carry data) but I could see how some people could be offended or parents who would be worried about their kids asking questions.

I think I'd go with a USB logo with a shield over the spot where it "forks".

  • A modified USB logo has trademark-infringement problems, as well as not being obvious what it means. – Mark Jan 11 '17 at 20:48
-2

No Data:

You got plenty of answers already, so heck I'll throw in my two cents too.

There's only one universal symbol for data transfer I know of, and hopefully the SQL guys will agree with me here: I/O

Basically it means Input and Output, so if you want to show "no data", cross it out:

enter image description here

No power??

I'm going to go ahead and disqualify my own answer here too, or Stack Exchange will yell at me.

There's only one huge, glaring problem with my suggestion: I/O can also represent power.

You're probably most familiar with seeing it on the backside of power supply switches. In this case, it represents a Open or Closed circuit, as you would close a circuit electrically.

So yeah, there you go. People have been asking about a symbol that represents "data", and this is the most universal one I can think of.

It still suffers from the same cable marking pitfalls others have mentioned, that people don't look at cable markings. I would either go with the lightning bolt (Apple doesn't own it) or making the cable visually stand out, as a different color or shape.

  • Unfortunately, as you note, virtually everyone will have seen the base symbol on a power switch somewhere. Far fewer will think of it in terms of data. – Mark Jan 12 '17 at 0:40
  • I like the no data idea, and had already considered something similar -- but your answer suggested how to style it. – Chris H Jan 12 '17 at 10:18
-3

You could do something like this: No serial connectivity

The arrow is the data symbol so you can red circle it out. the round symbol is charge voltage and the square symbol is for ground

  • 10
    This assumes that the majority of people know that's what the symbols on the logo even mean in the first place (I know I don't). – JonW Jan 11 '17 at 17:25
  • 1
    Very true, but if they plug it in and theres no data they then might look at it and notice there's a red circle with a line through it and hopefully would then realize the cable has limited functionality. – Wraithious Jan 11 '17 at 17:37
  • 1
    The goal of good UX is to avoid that happening. – djechlin Jan 11 '17 at 20:34
  • 3
    You could do something like that, and get sued by the USB IF for trademark infringement. – Mark Jan 11 '17 at 20:47
  • 5
    It's also based on an incorrect premise. The symbols are meant to represent diverse devices on a bus. I'll look for where I saw that, but it was official – Chris H Jan 12 '17 at 16:43
-3

I might suggest this icon based on the most immediately-understandable analogy for such a cable and its purpose:

enter image description here

  • 2
    The first thing that came to my mind when I saw that was this logo. I had to look twice to realize that was supposed to be a condom and not a reference to a certain historic telecommunications company. – Mark Jan 13 '17 at 19:22
  • The exact proportions could be changed; I just picked the first google image result that looked roughly correct. – R.. Jan 13 '17 at 19:33
  • 3
    @R. you are unfortunately incorrect about the cable's purpose. Your logo, as I assume you understand, is completely unacceptable in polite company (even during a Trump administration in the USA). – Bryce Jan 15 '17 at 21:48
  • 3
    There are multiple similar devices marketed as "USB condoms"; just do a Google search to see. I think we're past the point of considering the terminology NSFW/NSFSE. Maybe the answer is not a good solution, depending on the application in mind, but I don't think it's inappropriate for the site. – R.. Jan 15 '17 at 22:29
-4

enter image description here

Reasons why I propose this design:

  1. Red color is a big flag. The vast majority of USB cables are black or white, if I see a red USB cable I will think there's something different about it.

  2. Put a voltage/current/power logo, preferably at both sides of the connector and even better if you put that logo at both connectors. That way it will show up that that cable was designed for power supply. Make it as visible as you can, color contrast is the key. Not decided yet between black or white.

  3. If there's enough space, put an ONLY text next to the voltage/current/power logo to show up that it will only supply power and nothing else (no data transfer).

  • 1
    a wholly inadequate solution. USB cables come in all sorts of colours, and ideally cables should be useable even when you can't see/read the end. Adding one of these bad boys to my USB collection will ensure that I have to perform an extra cognitive step every single time I want any kind of cable. Just use a regular USB or have one that has a specially-shaped cable, such as in @TernaryTopiary's edited answer. – cheersphilip Jan 12 '17 at 12:05
  • 6
    That symbol means "risk of electric shock". Don't use symbols to mean things they don't mean. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_voltage – Dragon Jan 15 '17 at 20:12
  • 1
    @Dragon Tell that to Apple; as pointed out by others, it's also the logo for Thunderbolt. – TernaryTopiary Jan 20 '17 at 12:43

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