59

I'm doing a bit of iconography which got me thinking about the standard icon for a document / file shown below:

File Icon Examples

Why do the majority of these icons have the folder corner on the right hand side? Why is it seldom seen on the left and would it be detrimental to put it on the left? Is there a logical design reason for this? Or is it just a case of the first one sets the trend?

My question expands on the question here: What does an folded corner (earmarked page) represent to a user?

  • 18
    Can someone explain the down vote? – RobbyReindeer Oct 25 '18 at 9:53
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    Honestly I believe it's to show that it's a document (sheet of paper). Without it it would be a simple blank rectangle. I don't think it has any specific meaning outside of that. I don't think anyone would fold the top right corner of the page, especially in countries that read left-to-right. – NibblyPig Oct 25 '18 at 12:45
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    @NibblyPig I doubt it was arbitrary. The majority of people are right-handed. If you're holding a stack of sheets of paper, or you're flipping through a file containing multiple sheets, you're likely to hold with your left and fold with your right; the top-right corner is therefore the easiest place to do that. – Anthony Grist Oct 25 '18 at 19:42
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    Users aren't required to state why they downvote. Although the description of the downvote button is often relevant: "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful". Personally speaking I'd say this question falls into the latter part 'not useful'. There is no use you can do with the knowledge acquired by this question, and it's not really solving any real-world problem that you're currently trying to address. It's just a 'hmm, this is weird' bikeshed question. – JonW Oct 26 '18 at 11:05
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    @JonW I think the "Hot Network Questions" can be renamed to "The Bikeshed" without meta discussion and nobody would disagree – MonkeyZeus Oct 29 '18 at 13:01

11 Answers 11

55

The original, by Norm Cox, had the dog ear in the bottom left. This was made for Xerox Star system, and it was a bit of an odd choice since typically, in a book, the dog ear is in the top right corner*. (source)

enter image description here

It was only a latter concept that changed the position of the dog ear to its current position:

enter image description here

* This sentence was not based in any factual evidence. Some users pointed out that it might be an incorrect assumption. Thus the Strikethrough.


In The Xerox Star: a retrospective paper (Johson, et al., 1989) you'll find the reason for moving the bottom-left corner dog ear to the top right and I quote:

Figure 6. Match the medium. Many graphic refinements were made during the design process. For example, the turned corner of the document icon was moved to the top so that the three lines of label would line up with the labels of other icons.

For convenience here is the figure retrieved from the paper (pdf is freely available):

top right corner paper icon

This made sense at the time. Today I would assume it's done because that is what is familiar to the user. In my experience (and I've made quite a few paper icons derivatives) I use the top-right corner because it feels familiar and intuitive.

  • 1
    @RobbyReindeer I meant to answer your question but for some reason got confused and ended up answering your linked question (which already had an accepted answer). That is the reason for the duplication of information. It's still valid for both though. – armatita Oct 25 '18 at 8:57
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    @RobbyReindeer Links shouldn't open in new tabs anywhere unless the user wants them to, and therefore uses their middle mouse button (or CTRL key) to click them. The target attribute of A elements was deprecated for a while because of the anti-user-friendly behaviour it enabled. – Aaron F Oct 25 '18 at 13:42
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    @AaronF It was deprecated in XHTML1.1, but brought back in HTML5. I used to agree with your position that only the user should be able to open links in new windows/tabs, but now I see that in some cases it is a smart default, like on Reddit. It depends on your use-case and make sure you do usability research first! – Dai Oct 25 '18 at 18:38
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    In a book, the dog ear would be top left or top right, depending on whether you're marking the left or right page from the binding. – Barmar Oct 25 '18 at 19:28
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    While a book gets dog eared on the top right corner (assuming a book ordered left-to-right as virtually all English books are), a notepad tends to get dog eared on the bottom left corner. – Darren Ringer Oct 25 '18 at 22:37
26

This is an assumption but many people use to curl a page in a book to set it as a bookmark. As the left area is stitched you are left with the top right corner and bottom right corner and it is more natural to curl the top right corner.

As for other types of papers that are not books this might also be the case as the files might be added in a folder or stapled together usually on the left area.

  • 11
    What about dog ears on the left page of a book? When I was young and still used paper books I am fairly certain I bookmarked the left page just as much as I bookmarked right page... it's all about where you finished reading. If you finish on the left page you mark that one, if you finish on the right one you mark that one. – David Mulder Oct 25 '18 at 12:30
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    And even if you're for some reason talking about closed books (in which case you couldn't see the dog ear in the way it's typically represented) it's still the case that the dog ear will be pointing in either direction equally much (if it's on the left page you would have to look from the back side to "x-ray vision" see the dog ear overlapping with the page. – David Mulder Oct 25 '18 at 12:32
  • Interesting points @DavidMulder, which kind of breaks this answer's logic. – RobbyReindeer Oct 25 '18 at 12:38
  • I did mention that this was an assumption, but can you remember from when you were young when you were opening the book again to your left dog ear if you would open the book there and the dog ear would be on the right side and you would turn that page on the left side and resume your reading ( that is because as you are looking on the side of the book to resume your reading you will grab the pages up untill the dog ear as you cannot grab that one. ) – Zasul Oct 25 '18 at 12:41
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    You pretty much explained to yourself what`s with the left page dog ear by stating: "if it's on the left page you would have to look from the back side to "x-ray vision" see the dog ear overlapping with the page. " because usually you open the book from the top part not from the back side of it. resulting in an always to the right dog ear, even though the curl would be reversed ( which would make no sense to make an icon with a curl reversed) – Zasul Oct 25 '18 at 12:46
9

History This goes back to a time before screens and icons. The fold was used to hold pages together before paperclips were invented. At least I read this somewhere but unfortunately can't find the source. Seemed plausible to me anyway.

Top right Writing left to right you would cover the first thing on the page if the ear was in the top left. The bottom often has page numbers in one of the corners. Top right seems like the best option.

Skeumorphism We've always copied physical forms of thing to explain concepts in digital interfaces. The document with folded corner is no exception. And similar to the save icon, the link to its physical counterpart is getting lost as it's used less and less.

  • 4
    Don't they put the staples or paper clips on the left hand side of the page so you can flip it easier? – Michael Lai Oct 26 '18 at 16:13
  • You could add a picture for your second point. If there is text inside the Page, it can start close to the left edge if the fold is on the right side. Plus the first row is shorter in most cases, while the bottom right of a letter will often include a foot-note. – Falco Oct 29 '18 at 15:55
9

I think the skeuomorphic position of the "paper fold" is not the issue. The difference between the four positions is too minor. The skeuomorphic meaning of the different fold positions is so close that simple visual effectiveness is what makes the decision.

I think the position is simply the most effective position for eye scanning. It's the easiest position to notice when scanning or not looking at it. It's simply more noticeable than the other positions.

enter image description here

  • For people used to western left-to-right writing systems anyway. – Jack Aidley Oct 29 '18 at 14:10
  • Usually the image/icon is not big enough for scanning to really matter. – RobbyReindeer Feb 14 at 9:56
8

If you are reading a book and go to turn the page to the next one, which corner do you normally grab?

In Western, left-to-right-reading countries (and, for better or worse, a lot of things in tech are Western-centric), it's going to be along the right side of the page. Personally I'm much more likely to grab the top corner because it's easier for my index finger to lift up the top-right corner than it is for my thumb to lift up the bottom-right corner.

  • Not every document has to be in a book. It could just be a one page document. – RobbyReindeer Oct 27 '18 at 21:56
  • @RobbyReindeer True, but that doesn't mean that this rationale doesn't apply. Books set a precedent. Possibly because of muscle memory from reading books, I tend to flip over one-page documents from the top-right corner. – jamesdlin Oct 28 '18 at 2:43
7

A picture speaks a thousand words...

enter image description here

There was a life before computers. In fact, many people actually still use paper and paper files such as the one above. I have one on my desk right now...

  • But not all pieces of paper are folded on the top-right corner. I think you missed the point! – RobbyReindeer Nov 1 '18 at 12:31
  • @RobbyReindeer Why must an answer to our question be applicable to all pieces of paper? Not all icons have a folded notch in the upper-right corner either. – jamesdlin Nov 12 '18 at 23:27
6

Here is a typical letter or page of a book:

Heading 1

Dear Mr. Lorem Ipsum

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr,
sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore
magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua. At vero eos et 
accusam et justo duo dolores et ea rebum. Stet clita kasd 
gubergren, no sea takimata sanctus est Lorem ipsum dolor 
sit amet. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur 
sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt 
ut labore et dolore magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua. 
At vero eos et accusam et justo duo dolores et ea rebum. 
Stet clita kasd gubergren, no sea takimata sanctus est 
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.

Signature: ___________________

Footnotes
Stet clita kasd gubergren, no sea takimata sanctus est.....

A Folding on the left side would collide with the text. Some text would be hidden in the top or lower left, or the whole text would have an unnatural margin on the left.

The bottom right is filled with footnotes or an impressum/signature in many cases and may be "below the fold" e.g. too far down to be visually prominent.

This leaves the top right corner, usually void of text due to headers on the left. It seems just a sensible choice.

6

I see some similar answers to mine but have a bit different perspective.

While making the symbols, to make it easy to understand the makers want it to be easily understandable. So if you see a file in real life it is bound the left side and dog ears on the right side. That's the reason why they always folded on the top right.

I can't answer the other part of your question about folders but maybe it could have a somewhat similar reason.

4

This is a guess/opinion, but I think it probably has to do with the majority of people being right handed, and therefore a folded corner makes more sense to be on the right hand side since it will probably have been made by someone's right hand.

Another idea could be that the initial icons were designed by people in countries that read from left to right (e.g. the typical F scan pattern), so that the more important information tends to start on the left hand side. This means that a folded corner on the right hand side is less likely to cover important information.

  • The folded corner will be on whatever page it's marking. If it's marking a left-hand page, it'll be on the left, regardless of whether the folder is left- or right-handed. – David Richerby Oct 26 '18 at 15:15
  • @DavidRicherby I can only base it on my own behaviour (at least when I used to mark book pages in this way), but I only tend to fold it on the same side of the book because of the reason I mentioned in my answer. But I prefer to use bookmarks for this. – Michael Lai Oct 26 '18 at 16:12
  • Definitely with you on bookmarks! – David Richerby Oct 26 '18 at 16:42
4

Why a triangle/notch?

A blank sheet of paper holds no content. It's orientation does not matter.

A not-blank sheet of paper does hold content. And you do need to worry about its orientation to consume that content.

Its tricky to correctly orient a square or rectangle by shape alone. But, add in a cut-out triangle, and it becomes easier. Think about the notch on SIM cards. Or the notch on "ye olde" floppy disks.

So, I think the notch conveys "there is content here ; and therefore its orientation matters".

Why on the right?

Also, I suppose, why on the top? I read top-to-bottom and left-to-right. So, logically, I guess I'd like the 'content/orientation' marker to be at my starting point (top-left). But, darn it, it just feels good and proper for the notch to be on the top-right. So, perhaps, its just cultural convention too?

-5

I believe it could be because not all languages read left to right.

Here are a few languages that read right to left: Arabic, Aramaic, Azeri, Dhivehi/Maldivian, Hebrew, Kurdish (Sorani),Persian/Farsi,Urdu, etc.

Chinese, Japanese, and Korean can be read left to right, right to left, top to bottom.

  • 8
    How does this explain the direction of the icon? If anything, this suggests that the icon should depend on the locale and its writing direction. – Barmar Oct 25 '18 at 19:30
  • If you read right to left you wouldn't grab the right corner (top or bottom) of a book page you would grab the left corner (top or bottom). I write my applications in English. If I change the language for use in Japan I wouldn't change any icons. I wouldn't think a Japanese developer would take the time to (or even think of) changing subtle things like that ether. – kawadw Oct 30 '18 at 14:30

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