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A minor nitpick that I'm thinking about lately. Is anyone familiar with any research about whether icons are better with their label incorporated into them (i.e. the icon itself says 'search' or 'view my profile' or whathaveyou) or if they have a clearly seperate label below them?

Standard use clearly favours the label below. You can see this on windows 7, iphone, etc...

However I wonder whether this might not just be a product of the small size of these icons. If we are making bigger icons, ala the windows 8 tiles, then the titles and icons far more become one.

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    Keep in mind though, that if you go bigger than the "standard size" of an icon, it's not really an icon anymore, is it?
    – UXerUIer
    Sep 15, 2015 at 12:50
  • Not sure how screen readers and google bots etc. look at it but it may be worth noting the difference between a separate label and a label embedded in the image.
    – DasBeasto
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:10
  • This is going to depend entirely on the actual specific implementation. You could design both scenarios well, or very poorly, so any "research" will be vague, at best...if not just outright misleading .
    – DA01
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:52

3 Answers 3

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This depends on the Design Guidelines specified by the particular platform.

Following that and adhering the platform rules is the best way to go ahead.

It's about making the whole OS feel consistent, and not something that makes an icon distinct if you do not place the label against the rules of an OS.

For me, anything against the guidelines won't be consistent and will definitely be the odd man out, hence answering your question - It depends.

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    a nice point here
    – Fattie
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:18
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    Assume its a new system being made from scratch, not an iOS/windows/whatever application. Sep 16, 2015 at 7:17
  • If you were to cover an icon with a label or text over it, the icon would lose it's harmony since you won't be displaying the entire icon. Sep 16, 2015 at 13:18
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I thing it's more a matter of UI, appearance and possibilities of space-like user clarity. In this study examined effects with and without caption. Possible the additional meta analysis of arrive at your answer.

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  • This falls into UX since we're talking about the experience an icon might deliver if the designer decides to go against the guidelines specified by the OS. Sep 15, 2015 at 14:02
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    Yes, you are right. Users needs consistent product experience.
    – MaTT Belis
    Sep 15, 2015 at 14:14
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Ok, let me nitpick your nitpicking: you're talking about links or buttons, not icons. An icon has no words by definition (the word icon comes from the greek and means image) and its meaning is contained in itself. You can see more on these documents about Icons and Icon Usability.

With the above in mind, then the answer will entirely depend on context. For example, if the icon is on a menu bar on desktop, it will probably have labels below, while in mobile it might be at the side. If it's for a link, it will probably be on the left, if it's for a button it might be inside the button or even outside the boundaries of the button. Or they can just be tooltips!

In short, your general question has not real answer. First, because icons aren't labeled, you label the element which will have an icon AND a label. Second, because for every occurence of position you'll find an entirely different version, even on the same app!

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