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Want to get a sense of any best practices of using the "$" dollar sign in the context of an image in order to depict a universal idea of money.

UPDATE: My task was to create an icon/graphic used in an e-commerce checkout process which depicted the idea of an 'invoice'. It had to make sense in a global context (not just USD). Here is the exploration I had done: enter image description here

And here is the icon I ended up picking (without a symbol): enter image description here

Thanks for all the insights and weigh-ins everyone offered. VERY helpful!

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    You've accepted an answer too soon. It would be worthwhile to wait and give more people a chance to answer and then pick the one that fully satisfies the question and you. – SNag Sep 1 '15 at 0:25
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    Could you perhaps elaborate what the context is in which you want to use such symbol? – Bart Gijssens Sep 1 '15 at 6:43
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    There is a symbol for this. ¤ is the unspecified currency sign, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currency_sign_(typography) - This is not an answer though, because I suspect that using ¤ as a generic currency symbol is going to cause confusion. Esp. since the symbol is being used by several browsers to indicate that the text includes symbols not in the current typeface. – Taemyr Sep 1 '15 at 8:32
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    It's somewhat unfortunate that everyone spent so much time answering the question as to whether a US-centric symbol is suitable to represent money in the abstract ..................................... and it turns out you wanted a symbol for 'invoice'. What can I say but :-O – Fattie Sep 2 '15 at 2:13
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    When I received an email from amazon on my google inbox account (which displays a small box like this one) and saw a dollar sign where the price was supposed to be, I instantly got confused and wondered if amazon had charged me in dollar for some reason (before seeing the actual price in euros). So yes, some users get confused if you just assume that "$" is the universal sign for currency (because I doubt I'm an isolated case). – user42005 Sep 4 '15 at 9:46

14 Answers 14

74

It may very well be universally understood but I would be concerned (or at least keep in mind) the user's reaction to this symbol. Would a Russian (a patriotic Russian) be happy to see money be symbolized by the US dollar?

Is there any chance that he may think poorly of your site / app for using the dollar sign?

I don't know your customer base but at first blush I think this would be a concern - not that the $ sign is (or is not) universally recognized - but whether it is understood and appreciated as a symbol of money in general.

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    The $ symbol was around long before the US dollar, and originally was used to represent the Spanish American peso. The assumption that it represents the US dollar is only based on the prevalence of it's use, but is nonetheless flawed. – JohnGB Sep 1 '15 at 2:19
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    @JohnGB Dollars are also used in Canada, Australia and several other countries. Nevertheless, 90%+ of people (worldwide) will associate it with the USD. It's not technically "the" dollar, but it is the de facto "dollar". – PixelSnader Sep 1 '15 at 6:09
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    @JohnGB I'm sure you will be fine with explaining your point about $ sign origin to every user who associate it with US dollar. – Cthulhu Sep 1 '15 at 8:15
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    I'm not a US citizen. To me, the $ symbol stands for "money", not for "US Dollar". Be aware that at least 35 different currencies worldwide directly use and/or include the $ symbol (like my own, the Brazilian Real, or R$). – rsenna Sep 1 '15 at 18:03
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    @Mołot - filthy heather, $ is the symbol of almighty JQuery! You shall burn for your heresy! – Davor Sep 2 '15 at 12:29
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Context matters a lot here.

Like others mentioned, localization and your primary userbase should inform you whether to use $, €, £ or ¥ as 'standard' symbol. It might also be possible to do a location-check (via GPS, or IP) and display whichever icon is most appropriate.

If you don't know your userbase's location or currency, you could choose to go with ¤, which is the official stand-in symbol for unspecified currency. However this relies on them being informed enough, and as such wouldn't be advisable on a site for regular Joes.

But beyond that, it depends on what you're depicting. If it's about invoking the idea of money, you could combine the $ with other elements, for instance placing it on a bag to indicate you're not talking about a specific value. But be wary of using just the $ on its own as it is likely to be misinterpreted as actually meaning 'US dollar' instead of the broader "money".

Alternatively you can go for a more pictorial approach and show some bills and some coins. Even if you use green bills that look like USD bills, not using the actual $ symbol could prevent anti-US people from having negative associations.

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    Some bills and some coins of a generic appearance, fine, but I think depending on where you live (and what your local money looks like), "green bills" can still pretty much be perceived as a synonym to USD. – O. R. Mapper Sep 1 '15 at 8:00
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    I do hope that you are aware that there are actually people that travel! Keep in mind that all automagically set settings leave users helpless because they usually have no way of changing them in case they're unsatisfied. Furthermore, if it's a touchy, emotionally-charged issue, it may leave users offended anyway. Instead, locale data from the device should be used to determine appropriate localization options. – AndrejaKo Sep 1 '15 at 8:45
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    I think I am pretty informed but I've learned something new today. I've seen ¤ around before and always assumed it was some glitch due to incorrect character sets (like when East Asian text becomes squares). – the other one Sep 1 '15 at 9:27
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    @theotherone There is no country that actually uses ¤ as its currency symbol. There are some character sets that have it in the same position that the $ is in ASCII, though. One place I have often seen it is in FM radio text displays (e.g. the radio on my car says I am listening to "Ke¤ha"). – Random832 Sep 1 '15 at 13:34
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    @PixelSnader: Here are some bills from Europe, China, Japan, Brazil, India, Russia. Note how not all, but most of them are very colourful (much more so than ... – O. R. Mapper Sep 2 '15 at 9:35
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Surely the best symbol for currency that will be universally understood would be a note and coin as every currency uses both paper notes and coins most currencies use banknotes and coins.

Given this is a simple symbol for "currency", agnostic to culture, the great majority wouldn't have heard of cryptocurrencies, and may have once heard of Bitcoin so they wouldn't need to be represented to be understood by the vast majority.

Also, whilst many of use credit / debit cards for most transactions, we are still acutely aware that we can have cash, use it for transactions and no doubt still have some various notes and coins in a pockets / wallets at any given time.

Be sure to remove any currency symbol, and you're good to go.

Something like (without the Wikipedia text and people images): enter image description here

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Money_Coin_Icon.svg

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    Pedantic note: "Every currency uses both paper notes and coins" is false for 2 reasons: ① Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies don't use physical tokens. ② Increasingly many banknotes are made of polymer, not paper. One should say "most currencies use banknotes and coins". – Anko Sep 1 '15 at 19:55
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    While I certainly agree, I find it amusing to think that, in some cultures such as my own, nobody uses notes or coins. Everything is on the credit card! – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Sep 1 '15 at 19:56
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    An interesting speculation is whether any culture will eventually render notes and coins so obsolete that such a symbol will become as cryptic as that funny square that means "save". I am personally dubious about the long-term merits of crypto-currency, but know plenty of people who interact with traditional currency almost exclusively via debit / credit card, mobile, and online banking. – IMSoP Sep 1 '15 at 23:45
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    source on that picture? – Alec Teal Sep 2 '15 at 2:59
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    @CortAmmon "nobody" ? "Everything" ? What cultures would that be ? – Arnaud Meuret Sep 3 '15 at 8:28
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Historically, this question has been debated for quite a long time.

There is a "Generic Currency Symbol," which looks like "¤" which has been used since at least 1985, where it was included in ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1). In theory, that is the symbol you want. However, I have never seen it used outside of reading about the code pages themselves, so that just goes to show the challenges we face with currency symbol.

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    The generic currency symbol was encoded in ISO 646:1972, and I think the decision that it be so-encoded goes back to the mid 60s, though I'm not sure. I don't know about its history prior to that. – Jon Hanna Sep 2 '15 at 16:22
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    Interestingly it is an available key on French, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Estonian keyboards (taken from Wikipedia). On my keyboard it is shift + 4 for the key ¤. Have never used it for real, just as a debug output and things like that. Due to it's resemblance, it is also commonly known in Sweden as "hornmina" which translates to horn mine (don't know the english word for it), but it is a type of naval mine. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mina_morska_typu_M_1908-39.jpg – Viktor Mellgren Sep 4 '15 at 12:08
  • Very interesting. I've never heard of the generic currency symbol, neither have seen it in the wild... – stefan.s Sep 7 '15 at 8:44
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The answer is simply

of course, absolutely not

and it's surprising there is so much humming-and-hawing about it here.

It's an extremely US-centric idea, it's "just silly" if you will. Indeed the dollar symbol is often used in say political cartoons, financial cartoons, very much as a symbol of the US broadly.

If (for some reason) you wanted to use one symbol, you'd probably use the planet's main international currency, the euro, which is used by about twice? as many people as the USD, and of course in a dozen+ languages. (Of course, the Chinese Yuan is used by far more people than the Euro, and if I'm not mistaken there are now more net-users in China than anywhere else.)

(Oh - it turns out the the number of net users in China is double the US population ... again, another point suggesting it's "a bit silly" to use the dollar symbol.)


Moving on to a more positive note, what symbol should you use:

It seems quite common to use a melange of various major currency symbols:

enter image description here

Or, use "notes and coins" style icons ...

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Or, use "bullion bars" style icons ...

enter image description here enter image description here

There's three great choices, I think those are the main three choices open to you in developing an icon.

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    I agree with the conclusion of this argument but not the evidence (i.e. you shouldn't use the dollar). The dollar is the number one most recognized currency in the world. Roughly 60% of the world's transactions are made using the dollar with the Euro coming in at number two with 25%. It's colloquially known as The World Currency. investopedia.com/articles/07/unofficial_dollarization.asp en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_currency#U.S._dollar – MiniRagnarok Sep 1 '15 at 13:58
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    hi Mini -- the figure for "number of financial transactions" deals with "financial" transactions (so for example, people trading oil futures and so on -- computer transactions on stock exchanges and other electronic markets), and the issue of "national debt reserves" of nations. Regarding people using cash (physical) money, the Euro dwarfs the USD and the Yuan dwarfs the Euro. Note that as a simple example Amazon, say, as a global business would certainly have far more transactions in Euro than USD. – Fattie Sep 1 '15 at 14:08
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    "The dollar is the number one most recognized currency in the world." if you mean people recognizing the actual paper money, that is quite wrong, and hugely us-centric! Literally 100s of millions of chinese people would never even have seen a paper US Dollar. – Fattie Sep 1 '15 at 14:09
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    While I agree that being too US centric is a bad thing, the dollar sign is used in many countries, not just the USA, and actually has its origins in the colonies of Spain (now Latin America). Total population using the dollar sign (not necessarily USD) exceeds total population using the Euro. – Level River St Sep 1 '15 at 17:33
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    This answer doesn't seem ranty to me. It's (quite reasonably) calling out the parochial assumption in the question. – A E Sep 2 '15 at 16:53
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Lots of people have given good reasons. I don't think you'll get many Russians growing too irate at the $ sign but it is an interesting thought.

Another possible problem with the $ sign is it could lead people to thinking costs are in dollars. Which dollars is this? It needs to be clearly said or else you could get a particularly ignorant Australian not realising that this site could possibly be using another sort of dollar and thinking he's found a real bargain.

A standard that I've seen around is to have a combination of currency signs. $¥€£ gives you a decent cross section of the global economy with some recognisable signs. This I think clearly says money in general without leading people down an avenue of getting stuck on thinking about one currency.

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    The final paragraph is exactly correct. Perhaps we could dig up some examples of that. – Fattie Sep 1 '15 at 12:40
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    If you want to combine currency symbols, ¥€$ (YES) is one way to do so. – TRiG Sep 1 '15 at 17:14
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    Also, I may think that the site is priced in usd, and I want to purchase services / products from the UK because I can't wait or worry about the hassle of customs! – RemarkLima Sep 1 '15 at 17:40
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    Combining currency symbols to make words sounds like an interesting avenue to research. ฿u¥ ₦o₩? – Tekgno Sep 2 '15 at 23:42
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    @Tekgno A slightly more sensible one: $A£€. There aren't really any currency vowels though. Just E and Y. – PixelSnader Sep 3 '15 at 12:49
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I'm from a country that is not using dollars as a currency. Creating an app depicting money using $$$ symbols would be silly. I mean if you are 10 years old, making an app for friends, then go for it. But if you are a professional and don't want other people laughing at it simply forget about it.

Depicting money as green bills or gold coins would be OK, even if we don't use green bills or gold coins.

  • I completely and totally agree with this. The best answer here! – Fattie Sep 2 '15 at 2:02
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To non-dollar users, the '$' is understood as a foreign dollar of some kind, just as the Netflix icon for many people in the world gets recognized as the universal symbol for a movie that is "not available in [their/your] region".

enter image description here

You can say "patriotism" is the cause (as the accepted answer seems to have), or you can say pavlovian training is the cause, but both symbols have evolved to mean that comprehensive localization wasn't done, that it's probably not going to work for non-'$' users or non-netflix regions, and that those users may waste their time if they click on that button (when they could be using that precious time instead watching the latest cute cat videos).

Anyway, my point is that localization is important, especially for an invoicing system. It's not just the currency symbol that needs to be localized, it's also the punctuation. 1,000 Euros may mean 1000 Euros to you, but to a French person, that comma means that amount is just 1 Euro. And don't even get me started on VAT (Value Added Tax) or Sales Tax depending on where you are located and various other factors. And other cases still, it could also mean that the credit/debit card from your own home country is not going to work.

So if the localization work hasn't been done (except for the simplest of cases), as this is what is being implied by your assignment from your boss/client, then yes, you might as well use that icon. It will send the right signal on what to expect to a prospective user. And this is fine. I don't mean to say that generic non-localized solutions are not fine.

On the other hand, if you management/client decides one day to make an effort in localization, then use an icon overlayed with the appropriate UTF-8 currency (or use an icon overlayed with another partially transparent icon). In other words, treat it like any other button, do not hardcode the localized symbol with the image together, just overlay one on top of the other.

Thankfully, our technology has advanced to such a point that the average user won't be able to notice that the final composite icon was assembled at installation time, or at the last second, just for him.

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Aside from the localisation issues, ¤, $, £ etc. are symbols of currency, not money. Since the stated goal is to create an icon depicting an invoice, how about simply using a basic calculation, for example:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

or simply

mockup

download bmml source

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    That doesn't make me think of invoice, but a math app. – PixelSnader Sep 3 '15 at 12:41
  • Well, invoices are math. Maybe the alternative design with just the summary line helps? – l0b0 Sep 3 '15 at 14:48
  • The alternative doesn't look like anything except a 4 with some lines. – Matthew Read Sep 4 '15 at 14:57
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The $ is universally accepted as being US dollars. The Euro or British Pound use a different symbol. Usually, it's used to show an amount for when you want to buy something. If I see symbols like €, £ or ¥, I know to look up the conversion rate to figure out how much $ will be coming out of my bank account. Use $ if you want to get paid in US dollars. If you're just using the symbol to show money and don't plan on charging them, use the currency symbol for the country you're in. Most other people using your website will be from the same country because of word-of-mouth advertising.

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    And by "universally", you mean "within USA", right? You conveniently ignore countries (such as Australia) that use non-American dollars, and countries (such as Argentina) that use the $ sign for non-dollars. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Sep 7 '15 at 12:52
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    ... and Canada ... and Singapore ... and New Zealand, etc. etc. – Bill Dagg Oct 9 '15 at 21:36
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Bills and coins are varied and not even universal, and not what's being used here anyway. But, isn't the credit card format a true international standard?

An image depicting a bank card including the distinctive font used by the embossed digits, and the smart-card chip, would be indicitive of the use-case where such an artifact is about to be used in fact.

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There is a universal sign called Currency Sign ¤.

The symbol was first encoded for computers in 1972, as a replacement for the dollar sign in national variants (ISO 646) of ASCII and the International Reference Variant.

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My task was to create an icon/graphic used in an e-commerce checkout process...

The problem with the icons you've considered is they look like they could refer to a spreadsheet report generation tool.

Most shopping sites now use a shopping cart icon to refer to checkout.

0

You could make it localizable. Implement a region specific icon and use the local currency symbol. Then changing the symbol to the right currency is just another step in translating the app.

It may still be interesting, if this should depend on the language or region setting, though. I am not sure, if a European citizen currently being in USA want to have a Euro or Dollar symbol.

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