I am developing a program that saves Word documents.

We develop on Mac OSX (in a Virtual Machine) and as such the Word Icon we have used is the Mac-specific word icon (which makes no sense when deployed onto a Windows Computer, and probably won't be recognised by the majority of Windows users). I'm going to change this icon in the application to be the Windows specific icon.

However, it got me thinking about different platforms. Office 2003 users will be familiar with a different icon than Office 2007 and Office 2010 (I think those are the right years). Similarly if we port the application to Mac at any point Mac users will also be used to a different icon.

I know that we could potentially choose a generic icon for use within the application (and actually modifying the image between different platforms isn't going to be all that difficult). My main thought was what was the "better" option.

  1. Settle on a generic icon so that there is continuity between applications across platforms. Anyone using the same application on a different machine will have the same expected experience.
  2. Have distinct icons for each platform which will make the application look more professional and tailored for each platform, and will also give the relevant icon recognisable for the platform the user is on.
  3. Another option. E.g. create non-recognisable generic icons fitting the design of the application which can be used across platforms but require a learning curve and potentially alienate users.

3 Answers 3


I think you should go for option 2 - use the "standard" icon for the system you are running on.

The number of people who use both operating systems will be relatively small and they will be used to the different look and feel of each OS.

The vast majority of your users will be single OS users who will be looking (albeit unconsciously) for the standard icons.

  • +1 and I'd use the icon from the most recent Word version installed on the machine on which your app is running. That way you don't need to include all the icons of all the different Word version with your app - a generic one in case Word isn't installed will suffice (and also signal that Word isn't available). Jan 6, 2012 at 18:00


4) Use the name of the application (as opposed to the icon) to avoid ambiguity. This is the pattern Google's apps follow. For example, here is a 'Download File' panel in Google Docs:

enter image description here

  • Hmm, but this then becomes boring and "drab". I understand why this would solve the issues, but in keeping the the design of the application it would be best to have an icon of some description. Google apps has a generic unbranded spreadsheet icon on the left there, which I know isn't quite the same, but allows for some diversity in the design. Jan 6, 2012 at 14:46
  • you could use an icon as well as text? But I think that the text is the clearest - you have to take into account multiple versions of each platform as well.
    – Jon White
    Jan 7, 2012 at 1:57

As long as it's a large blue W most Windows users should understand it relates to Microsoft Word. However, you gotta look into the rules of use for Microsoft file icons as there might be some restrictions.

Nonetheless, no matter how recognizable the graphic is it won't be understood well on its own. It can be interpreted as export to Word or import from Word. Thus, you have to have some text next to it explaining the action like what you did with Save.

  • Yeah, thats exactly how it looks, word icon next to the sentence "Save as Word Document" :) Thanks for this. Jan 6, 2012 at 17:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.