I'm working on a mobile site and am wondering if a small icon in the shape of a house is sufficient to function as a "back to home" style link. This feels very "web 1995" but I still see it today and it seems like it may have reached the critical mass to be intuitive to the vast majority of users. However I am basing this only on personal anecdotal experience and would love to know other thoughts.

(I'm aware that icons almost always function better with text, but that may not be an option in this particular design due to space constraints.)

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    I think it's perfectly fine, and as long people live in houses, a house is going to be a good icon for home :) – Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 21 '11 at 19:57
  • A disk still says 'save' even though that's very 1985. I think it's OK. – DA01 Apr 21 '11 at 20:04
  • @Vitaly - convert to answer. It's the right one! – Nicole Apr 21 '11 at 22:00
  • A decent stylized House-Home button should do the trick. But make sure it fits the rest of the design. A happy little home button in a professional looking UI is bad in my opinion. – Barfieldmv Apr 22 '11 at 15:06
  • Yes, it's a different icon, but this question about "Save" is pretty much the exact same question and the answers are going to be very similar as well: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/3117/… – Charles Boyung Apr 22 '11 at 19:36

The house is a good convention for "home"-page or start page. It has been around a long time, but that does not make it bad. In all of the popular web browsers, the house icon is always there. The recently released Internet Explorer 9, still uses the house icon for its start page:

Internet Explorer home button

But Internet Explorer have been around since the 1990's. But how about a newer one like Google Chrome?

Google Chrome home button

Yes, it's there.

You can also think of how the save icon looks in any software. The convention is still a diskette, even if no one have seen a real one for years. But this icon remains, just because everyone knows what it represents.

It is good practice to use conventions.

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  • I was so focused on its use in sites I forgot how prevalent it is in browsers (and devices) themselves. Thanks everybody for commenting, I feel much more confident moving forward with this. – Michael Histen Apr 22 '11 at 17:17
  • Thanx, @Michael. That's why we're here. I've done the same on stackoverflow.com a million times. You get focused on the problem at hand, forgetting the basics. Been there, done that. Good luck on your project. – Benny Skogberg Apr 22 '11 at 17:55

How do people react when you show it to them? Have users (family , neighbors) look at it.

Most of the time it will be the context that's it used, not the icon, that impacts effectiveness.

I think of a house more of returning to the main page of an app, rather than a web site, but the overall design will provide the context that makes it work (or not).

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  • +1 for 'context'. Always important and often overlooked. – DA01 Apr 21 '11 at 21:06

While not a perfect analog for a mobile website, it is worth noting that the standard Android button for returning to the home screen is in fact a house icon. You'll find it pictured at the bottom of almost all Android devices. So, not only is the house icon a historic standard, it is also a standard on the device itself for a fairly large proportion of your users.

You're almost certainly best off using recognizable icons rather than trying something unique just because the tried and true method is a little old.

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  • Good answer. I thought of Android home button as well. – Benny Skogberg Apr 22 '11 at 5:31

Like Vitaly said, I think its fine because people live in homes and also it has been ingrained in peoples minds.

However, another option available to you, is "the logo". People have been trained to use the logo to return "home." as well.

Also, a "back" icon can also do the trick.

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  • I strongly disagree about the logo - much less people are aware of it than you'd think, and they're usually advanced users. And the back icon is only good if you came to the page straight from the homepage, which isn't far from always being the case. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 21 '11 at 20:33
  • To add to what Vitaly mentions, I think the logo SHOULD link home, as some people expect it to, but should NOT replace the dedicated home link (for everyone else). – DA01 Apr 21 '11 at 21:06
  • um, I meant "IS far" :) – Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 22 '11 at 6:24

You want to provide means to get back to the 'starting' point, and unless you are an uber popular site that will force people to learn a new way, it's probably a good idea to use some conventions every one and their mother is familiar with. I also see nothing wrong with using multiple pathways to the beginning.

  • A tab with either the 'house' or 'Home'
  • A hyperlinked logo that returns folks to the beginning

You've got no control over the 'back' button. It's going to be there any any browser, but make sure you've thought through the use. For instance, gmail keeps track of your last actions, so the 'back' button is merely a step backwards within the program, instead of going to the previous domain.

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It's possible that seeing the house in a web browser will cause people to think that the icon will take them to the browser's home page, or perhaps even to their Android home screen (if they're on Android). Often, duplicating existing UI elements and giving them different functionality is bad.

But it really depends on context. To find out if it works in your case, implement a prototype. Find five people who are unfamiliar with your design. Show it to them. Ask "what do you think will happen when you tap this icon?"

You'll probably get a pretty good idea of how well the icon will work. If some of the people are unsure about what the icon does, chances are it won't work well. If it's perfectly obvious to all of them, it might be perfectly obvious to most of your users.

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I think for mobile app initiatives the starting point (or home) is often a specific area for functionality. If it is a dashboard of sorts for a mobile site then Home seems fine. For apps that I have created the starting point is a feed, so I called it Feed and used a list icon.

an example would be Instagram.

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I think that using the Home page icon is appropriate in most scenarios.

Another idea for the icon, however, could reflect the actual app as well. For example, if your app is game or a newsreader, maybe the icon for the app is appropriate for the home button. That is just an example, and may not work in most cases.

Key note...whatever it is, it should be clear that it is taking them to the screen that they landed on when they first started the app.

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