The device on the photo below is used to upload data to various kinds of flash memories (the details are not important).

There is a LED underneath the box labeled "RUN" which lights up whenever an upload is in progress (the data are being transferred). In addition, there is a button (not visible in the photo) on the other side of the device underneath the LED that is used to initiate a transfer (so that you don't have to operate your PC when you need to flash multiple memories).

How should I label the LED and the button so that their function is clear? Currently, due to the limits on space and imagination, the single word "RUN" stands both the LED (the operation is RUNning) and for the button (RUN the operation). However, I'm sure there is a better way. The LED would be better named "BUSY" and the button "START", but how do I make it clear what each of the labels is associated with? Note that while the user will most likely notice the button, the LED is completely hidden underneath the paper.

a device with a label and a button

  • 5
    Refreshing to see a UX question on hardware rather than software. +1
    – Izhaki
    May 8, 2014 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


Further to Izhaki's answer, I also have a few suggestions.

  • If you are open to replacing the Start / RUN text with an icon, I would suggest the play icon. It is universally recognisable, and already associated with an action that gets started by a user press and continues for some time.
  • You didn't mention what colour the LED was. I would say a green LED might better indicate that the device is running, as red is sometimes associated with errors (I don't know if changing it is an option though)?
  • Hi, thank you for the answer, I went with the play icon design. The LED is currently orange, but I can definitely change that. Red would indeed feel like an error color; green should be fine.
    – avakar
    May 11, 2014 at 12:24

There is no definite answer for this.

First, ideally these terms are decided based on user research - ask the users.

Second, it would be good to know how much space there is - can we only fit 7 characters? 12 characters?

The fact is that due to the limited space, the semantic information is unlikely to be encoded in its complete form, but a partial form instead - leaving it for users to interpret the meaning. This is where the manual becomes handy (and honestly if this are all the labels, you'll get away with pretty much anything quite easily).

Just consider the dial on Cannon cameras:

A photo of the dial on a Cannon DSLR

Completely cryptic for first time users, but crystal clear for professional users.

Before I read the rest of your post, I had "Busy" and "Start", then I saw you have picked exactly the same terms. A good sign alright, but that's just 2 opinions of what ideally would be many more.

  • Hi, thank you for the answer, I never even considered the possibility of using icons.
    – avakar
    May 11, 2014 at 12:24

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