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Save icon, is the floppy disk icon dead?

When designing UI, metaphors are important aspects, no doubt to that. But I often come across when picking the right metaphor is tricky as it seems that people tend to forget what the original item (on which metaphor is based) meant.

An example would be floppy drive metaphor, which is used as a "save" button. It was very relevant ten years ago as everyone knew that floppy is a media where you can save some files to. But new generation might not know what a floppy drive is, so do metaphors get out of date and need to be replaced or do they become symbols and will leave without relating them to real world objects?

  • I can hardly think of many other examples here. Maybe the cellphone symbol with the long antenna - but kids will see it in movies :-) Apr 22, 2012 at 11:43
  • Floppy discs were relevant twenty years ago and even then the 3.5" floppies were becoming more common and CDs started popping up. Ten years ago we used CDRs, DVDRs, email and usb sticks. Apr 22, 2012 at 14:54
  • You know, small children today still recognize an image of a rotary telephone, even though they have never seen one. Think about it. Is an icon of a rotary telephone outdated?
    – Kaz
    Apr 23, 2012 at 20:01
  • @Kaz Not yet, as there are still a lot of movies where you can see them, but it might change in future.
    – Vitalij
    Apr 23, 2012 at 20:16

2 Answers 2


The answer is yes, certain metaphors do become outdated... but that doesn't necessarily mean they are useless. For example, very few under 30 somethings have actually ever used a rotary dial telephone, yet most recognize such a symbol - eg. Skype's handset symbol is a rarity these days in the real world.

Evidently, we're still trying to differentiate between a land-line and a mobile, but eventually we will totally eliminate the rotary telephone imagery from our metaphors.

It takes a long time - generations - to eliminate most metaphors from our cultures. That said, be wary of using what are really only fads as metaphors.


do visual metaphors get outdated? - No, they get updated with new visual!!!!

As per your example , younger generation might not know what floppy icon may be , but they would know the alternate symbol of it , which needs an updation accordingly. Metaphors are necessary UI for explaining the meaning of an action in a short manner. Hence, it cannot get outdated, but, certainly get updated.

  • 1
    How do they get updated? What sort of new visual update do you mean, a change of colours, a change of size, a change of actual image?
    – JonW
    Apr 22, 2012 at 9:52
  • it could be any of the above w.r.t visual graphic. Any change that retains the original meaning and purpose.
    – sree
    Apr 22, 2012 at 12:20

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