I'm building a tool that wraps around an automated compilation and testing process; the user selects one or multiple versions they want to test and instructs the software to either start the process right away or at night.

I'm fairly sure on the icons for the test action (green check mark) and for scheduled actions (superimposed clock), but I'm unsure on how to represent the compile process.

Visual Studio uses a window with a wall of text and two downward arrows, suggesting that the text scrolls by; while this is a very accurate representation of how a compile looks like to the user, it does not signify what is actually happening (files being transformed and combined into a product).

Should I go for the "familiar" icon here, or try to find another one that represents the process (I'd probably go for two "text file" icons, a green arrow, and the familiar Windows "application window" icon, but I'm open to suggestions here)?


As Bart Gijssens stated, compilation is synonymous with "building". I would suggest using bricks. Here are two examples found through a simple Google image search:

bricks icon bricks icon

  • One point of caution here: in some IDEs 'build' and 'compile' have different meanings and represent different actions (build has a broader meaning and represents a process that includes a compile step). – Marielle Nov 25 '11 at 22:32

the compile process should in fact be called the "build" process. Building is compiling, linking etc. Finding an icon for "build" may be easier. XCode uses a hammer icon to represent build. You could also use a yellow helmet, like Bob the Builder has.

  • I've always associated the hammer with repair work -- if something fails, the hammer gives me options to fix it. – Simon Richter Nov 25 '11 at 15:01
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    How can you fix something with a hammer? If I use a hammer it only gets more broken ;) And how about the yellow helmet? Is that not associated with construction work, i.e. a build process? – Bart Gijssens Dec 5 '11 at 10:36

You should go for the familiar icon. However self-explanatory your "semantic" icon might be, you can never completely rely on it to really be self-evident, especially for a term as abstract and as complicated as "compilation". If you're in a situation where the user needs to figure out the meaning of the icon based on its appearance, then you have a problem - there should be an easier and a surefire way for the user to know the meaning - i.e. a label.

Once the user knows the meaning, the job of the icon is to be easily distinguishable from the other icons, so that users could find it quickly and without mistake.

And if we're going in the "semantic" direction - it makes absolutely no difference how close the icon is to what's "really" happening. Since you're trying to convey the meaning of the icon to the user, what matters is how the user sees it. For example, in airports all over the world, "arrivals" are signified by a plane with its nose down. While in reality the plane lands with its nose up, but that's counterintuitive to most people who don't think about it (also, a "realistic" icon with the nose up would look too similar to the "departures" one, with the difference being just that the wheels are out, and that's not enough of a distinction). So even with the semantic approach, your best bet is to draw on a convention, like the Visual Studio icon you mentioned.


Delphi uses a cogwheel with a stream of ones and zeros below it and an clockwise arrow around its right. "Compile", "Compile all" and "Build all" all use the same concept. Compile adding a single form; Compile all replacing the cogwheel with two forms but keeping the clockwise arrow; and Build all placing a folder behind the cogwheel:

Screenshot of part of Delphi's project menu


I know the following icon... But it could be a likelihood of confusion with the settings icon.

Compiling icon

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    Is that really used in an application, or are you just posting the first thing that comes up on Google for "compile icon"? – DisgruntledGoat Nov 25 '11 at 16:22
  • Yes, I'm sure that I have seen this icon in some apps. But I don't know which apps what is was... sorry. I will search for this apps. – sysscore Nov 28 '11 at 7:39

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