I'm busy redesigning our main application's UI and we're adding a search feature. In your experience, between an icon of a magnifying glass and a pair of binoculars which icon is more intuitive?

I know/think that the user will get used to whichever icon is used, but it would be nice to get it "right" the first time.



Go with what's common: the magnifying glass


EDIT: Its also the 'search' icon which is built into both IE and Firefox.


Apart from the icon, the position of the search box is also very important. Normally the search should be in the top right corner -- people tend to remember the position of an item better than the graphical representation of an icon, and they're used to this convention, so "muscle memory" will guide them to the top right.

See more on icon vs. position at UIE's Orbitz Can’t Get A Date.


Oddly, neither really properly communicate the intent very well. They've just become the de-facto icon for it (like a floppy disk for 'save').

That's not to say we can't come up with a better icon though.

I think a magnifying glass is more common, thereby the default answer. Either one is likely OK to use as long as there isn't need for an icon for tasks such as 'find' or 'zoom' in which case things begin to fall apart metaphorically.


I'd recommend the magnifying glass. Its a simpler icon, easy to recognise at a variety of sizes, and consistent with the icon used on many leading websites.


Interestingly, the international standard ISO/IEC 18036, "Information technology - Icon symbols and functions for World Wide Web browser toolbars" defines a torch/flashlight with light rays as the appropriate icon.

Has anybody ever seen a flashlight used as a search icon?

  • The flashlight used as a search icon is what the older versions of Windows use as a 'hunting for data / loading' icon when Windows gets a bit confused.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 29 '10 at 9:52
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    Thanks for your reply Lisa. Windows Grep uses it ( wingrep.com ), as well as other "old" programs that use "old fashioned" icons in their GUI. The first time I saw it in WinGrep, I must admit, "WTF?" went through my mind. If it wasn't for the fact that I have previous experience with "old" and "outdated" GUI icons I think that I would have been seriously confused. I think that a magnifying glass would be better. Jul 29 '10 at 13:44

they both tell me "ZOOM" but i'd go with the magnifying glass because it's much more used as a search icon convention.


Thanks for your input guys.

I would have considered the pair of binoculars to be the more intuitive one as that is what has been used on the majority of programs that I have worked with (I've been on computers since about 1989.) To me the magnifying glass represents zooming in or giving more information on something since magnification is the process of enlarging the appearance of or giving more information about that something.

Oh, and to give you some more context, this is a WinForm application, not a web or Silverlight application (yet.)

And BTW - I'm a Google fan, I really don't like Bing ;-)

  • I've edited Andrew. I think what's happened is the 'Web World' convention has won out over the Application Software World convention.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 23 '10 at 9:12
  • Yeah. On a personal level, I'm busy adding more web ideas and conventions into my head so that it's not just the "oldskool" offline app conventions that I"ve grown up with that are in there. :-) Thanks. Jul 23 '10 at 9:30
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    A meta-note: Editing your post is a better way for people to see your later thoughts, rather than replying with an answer. You could also add a comment to your original post. Answers are for...well...answers. Jul 23 '10 at 14:45
  • Myth #14: You are like your users - uxmyths.com/post/715988395/myth-you-are-like-your-users Jul 23 '10 at 14:53
  • If your user base spend a lot of time on-line then the magnifying glass will be the most familiar icon for search. If you are searching content use a magnifying glass. If your search is different to content search, eg: searching files, consider binoculars.
    – Leah
    Jul 27 '10 at 2:10

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