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In building software in which we compare products with environment requirements, we've had an internal debate on how to best show approved/disapproved in black/white print.

I've been under the impression that a check mark means approved (among other things), and that a diagonal cross (×) would mean the opposite. Others mean to say that it's not universally understood as such.

Is it? And if not, what's a better way of describing it?

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    couldn't it be misleading because the cross could be read as either checked for approval and been disapproved, or not in fact checked for approval yet (unapproved) – Roger Attrill Jan 22 '14 at 14:32
  • @RogerAttrill Indeed, in which case the check and cross still appears as opposites. This, and the answers made so far, has led me to believe that what I need to do is simply define what it means. (Check) = Approved, (Cross) = Disapproved/Declined – Joakim Johansson Jan 22 '14 at 14:57
  • I assume smiley (approve) and frowney (disapprove) are not suitbale for the general tone of your application? – Ulrich Schwarz Jan 22 '14 at 16:15
  • I don't quite follow what the problem is. Is it that people might not understand that check and cross mean good and bad things, or that they might not realise the yes/no relates to the approval status of the item? – Dan Hulme Jan 22 '14 at 17:01
  • @UlrichSchwarz Haha, you assume correctly :) – Joakim Johansson Jan 23 '14 at 12:08
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If it ain't broke...

Using a check and cross to convey approved and disapproved will be the approach best recognized by the absolute majority.

Conduct a short field study of how it's usually visually represented, here are two examples:

Connecting a USB device to a PC: (CHECK!)

enter image description here

Displaying specs of some consumer electronics: (CHECK!)

enter image description here

The check/cross is widely used to convey polarity, (exists/doesn't exist, done/not done, etc...).

This polarity is also what you're trying to convey. No need to venture out deviating from the convention here.

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  • I'm marking this one as the answer. You've shown a few examples, and I've seen a few more while exploring, that confirm that it conveys polarity, but also benefits from color choice and defining what it means. My conclusion is that if I define (check) to mean approved, and (cross) to be declined, it should be easily understood. – Joakim Johansson Jan 23 '14 at 12:11
  • @JoakimJohansson I'd say that you're correct in that conclusion. – AndroidHustle Jan 23 '14 at 13:14
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A checkmark can be used to signify a number of things, including compliance, approval, verification, correctness, inclusion etc.

Depending on how the rest of your interface is setup, a checkmark/cross is a good way to show whether something is compliant or not. For example, Apple uses the following image to showcase how environmentally friendly their computers are:

enter image description here

There are plenty of green certification programs that incorporate the checkmark in their logos as well, like the Forest Stewardship Council:

enter image description here

A checkmark and cross are also used to show what features are included in certain pricing packages. Like the Skype pricing package:

enter image description here

Alternatively, you can use a symbol (like your company or certification logo) to denote compliance, like this example from Absolutely Paperless:

enter image description here

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The classical icon for "approve" is the check mark. Just search on google images for approve, or also if you accept ( similar to approve ) a question on a stackexchange network you will click on a check mark.
There are many examples of using the check mark to display, something is approved. On the GIT-Visualization Software Stash you use a check mark to mark something as approved.

But in the case of a disapproving, there are several possibilities and I wouldn't say, the cross is the classical variant.
Well used is the "Thumb down" icon.enter image description here

Often you also will see the icon for "deny", while IMO, you should use this to deny something and not really to disapprove. enter image description here

Also your cross is a good solution or just mark something red (unuseful in your case).

So to answer to the title: YES, the check mark is the most used (but not official I think) version. For the disapprove icon, I can't say, there is a (in-)official version. IMO, the cross is easy-to-understand and is good practice for use as an icon.

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    "just mark something red" - The OP wants to indicate the state in black/white print – Roger Attrill Jan 22 '14 at 14:37

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