In an application were developing there is a window containing a table holding 2-5 rows. A metaphor for the context could be that the table identifies a gearbox of a car and each row is a gear in the gear box. Only one gear is active at a time and this is displayed in one column. Now I want another column holding icons for activating another gear. (FYI previously we've had a radio button group representing this but for consistency reasons we have to find another solution)

What would be the appropriate icon for this?

I have had a look at some of the most common suggestions but I'm still not sure what would be best. Some of those I've seen are:

Check: enter image description here

Power:enter image description here

Flash:enter image description here

What would you say would be the most appropriate icon for this? Please provide other ideas for icons if you have any! =)

  • 2
    Please see meta.ux.stackexchange.com/questions/629/… for guidance about this type of question.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 10:44
  • @ChrisF Hi Chris, I'm sorry but I don't entirely agree with the reasoning behind that post. I don't agree that queries regarding choice of icons is outside the scope of UX design. And discussing the right illustration for communicating a function to a user can very well transfer to other instances, meaning I do not agree that it exclusively concerns the user who posted the question. Further more, I don't think questions like these danger flooding the forum. The topic is clear, anyone who's not interested can ignore it. And there was no instance of this question before, now there is. Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 11:34
  • @AndroidHustle I'm afraid you're in the minority. You're welcome to post an answer to the meta question and try and persuade us to change the policy. Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 13:46

6 Answers 6


If it is about enabling something i would go with a physical latch, or an 'on/off' switch of some sort.


Rather than a generic icon, one that is more relevant to the specific context would be appropriate. Since you have not indicated the actual context and only a metaphor, it is not possible to suggest the right answer according to this approach.

You may look at similar designs to get into the feel of it, which will definitely help. Add your creative thinking.

  • Hi Kris. Sure, I can see where you're coming from. The reason for the metaphor was to make it more graspable to the reader. In fact the actual function would not be anything you're familiar with, because there's nothing like it existing today. I would look at existing applications. However I've found that the most common solution for operations such as the one I've described is by using radio button optiongroups, and as I pointed out this would not be possible. A generic icon is as of now what I'm most interested in. Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 11:40
  • @AndroidHustle Apparently, you have not found an acceptable solution yet.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 9:32

Seeing as you've allowed room for the column to have the word activate at the top, why not simply have a button on each row that reads [Activate] ?

What are the UX requirements that are driving a need for a blob of pixels to represent an action?

  • Incidentally, a 'blob of pixels' at times conveys more information than [Activate] and in a more immediate, unambiguous way.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 12:09
  • Only for icons which are already very well established in the culture.
    – Erics
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 12:14

Perhaps you could use different coloured icons to indicate which row was active. Even something simple like a 'dot' would work, for example: enter image description here & enter image description here

  • It's good. It's the same icon as Google use in their Google AdWords application. I'll definitely consider it! Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 12:41

Why not displaying a simple "go" icon like this:enter image description here

Do not hesitate to add a label to your icon if there is no icon understandable enough to clearly tell the user what it does.

  • Hey Alonis! That is another example of an icon for that feature, thanks! As for the label, the icons will be ordered in a table column, holding the column header text "Activate", so there will be an actual mapping between the icon and corresponding information about what its feature is. However, what I was looking for was input on which icon had the most distinct affordance for the "Activate" semantics. Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 11:49
  • Then I'll simply go for a green indicator for "activated" and a greyed one for deactivated.
    – Alconis
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 12:50

enter image description here How about this one..?

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