In our web-app there is a message centre with a time-line of communications. We let the user move instances of these into what we are calling an archive. On each of the listed messages there appears a small icon to effect this action.

The user can at any time switch to a view of their archive, which behaves exactly the same as the normal inbox except now there is an icon to restore individual messages back to the inbox.

In our draft non-release prototypes we've just been using a small trash can icon to represent archive, but of course this isn't ideal.

Any suggestions for an alternative pair of icons to use?

edit: The user can switch between the active inbox and the archive at any time via a two-state view switcher button, located just above the list of messages. The two buttons would contain both the icon for the view and the name of the view.

So .. arrows on the icons pointing right for archive, and left for restore, would also gel. Just need those root icons now and the responses below answer that quite well.

4 Answers 4


These icons might work better if the arrows pointed into the image.

inbox Move to Inbox
This open top inbox is a pretty common icon. Perhaps a message/document inside would be helpful.

box Move to Archive
A cardboard box, taped closed. A cabinet or safe might also work.

One concern is these icons are visually very similar. This could help users associate them as related actions or confuse them if they forget their current context. As always, user feedback is key.

Icons come from Yusuke Kamiyamane's Fugue Icons set.


How about a filing cabinet (maybe with a drawer open to make it more obvious) for the archive and a scaled down version of your inbox icon with an arrow pointing to it for the restore icon?


We have no clue as to the colors and styles of other icons in your application, but I played around with a few samples as below and came up with the pair of icons at the bottom. I've included larger and smaller versions, and obviously they can subsequently be styled/colorized according to your needs, but the concept is clear and simple:

  1. an arrow going away towards an archive box
  2. an arrow coming forward into an in-tray or in-box.

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • 2
    At first glance, those looked like toilets. I guess the analogy is still the same. :-)
    – LarsTech
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 22:05

I'm not sure what mac users will find the most clear, but for windows users either the traditional filing cabinet icon, or something along the lines of a box that has been zipped up - referring to the standard windows icon for an archived file (usually .zip). The problem with these is that they have no easily related restore icon.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

So I would go for one of the following two options. Either an open safe with an arrow pointing in, or an open box with an arrow pointing in. You could then use a similar icon with an arrow exiting either the box or the safe as a restore option. If I did this I would use different colour arrows for archive and restore. You could also use a closed safe or closed box with an arrow coming out, which would help distinguish it more from the archive icon.

enter image description here enter image description here

  • Interesting - the same basic icon, but with the arrow direction reversed. Interesting because the other answers are taking the position that the opposite of "move to archive" is "move to inbox". Food for thought.
    – Erics
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 9:22
  • 2
    I think it's better to have some indication of where it's going rather than where it's coming from. Otherwise theres ambiguity in the meaning of removing from archive'? It *might mean really deleting it for all the user knows. Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 9:32
  • @RogerAttrill: that would assume that there is a recognisable icon for the location to which it is going, and also may be less discoverable. Unless it is clear what the icon is acting on there is likely to be confusion. As always worth testing though :)
    – JohnGB
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 11:34
  • @RogerAttrill: An arrow out of the archive is quite clear to me that it doesn't mean delete. A traditional "open" icon is often a folder with an arrow out of it, but you never think of it as "delte from folder", right?
    – awe
    Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 12:09
  • @awe right - that would mean open and is familiar, but it wouldn't mean open in this context because it's not being opened - it's being moved. But without indicating some context of where it's going, the user might have some doubt about where it might be being 'moved' to. Commented Oct 7, 2011 at 12:37

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