When I did a google search for "password icon", there are way more for "lock" than "key". Maybe this is what the masses expect, but should one follow the trend, or start a new trend in the name of progress?

To me a key is the thing that grants you access. If you go to a locked door or a gate with a padlock on it, and in your hand is a lock, you're not doing to get access by inserting a lock.

1 Answer 1


You’re not wrong, a password is more like a key than a lock. But, I can think of three reasons why a lock is shown.

  1. In the real world, the lock is the signifier that you need a key. We just viscerally know that when we see a lock, a key is required. The lock icon represents the password field that accepts the password, rather than the password itself.
  2. Sometimes we need to communicate to the user that an ordinarily locked item has been unlocked. The locked icon / unlocked icon is a nice visual binary. It can reinforce to the user that a password isn’t necessary.
  3. In the old days, a key icon was often used in the API world to prompt for a secret key - similar to a password, but also distinct in meaning. Thus it has an existing semiotic meaning, assigned to another function.

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