Android gives you the ability to cut and paste text to a clipboard. Tap and hold and you can select the part you want to copy/cut. You also have the option to select all the page. so far so good.

I always mix up the the icon for select all with the one for copy and I am not the only one confusing the two.

My question - what in the design of the icons may cause this potential confusion.

(notice : select all is square with a marching ants border icon, copy is the rectangular on top of another rectangular icon)

enter image description here

  • Well...technically you can figure this one out for several reasons, one is the fact that that copy icon is widely used, the other being the fact that it looks like a duplicate. Now...I agree, icons are mostly not that clear, unless their a convention, and even then it'd often be hard! It's still best to try to be verbose in case an unusual icon is being used, "select all" is something that could've fit the lines and by the power of deduction you could've known one from the other. You often see that some care more about design than usability :-) - Anyway, you could ask the android designers?
    – Xabre
    Sep 23, 2015 at 11:48
  • I agree with the question. However, mostly I just copy URLs, where Android offers the totally obvious pair of scissors, so I cut rather than copy these.
    – PhillipW
    May 28, 2017 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


It's probably due to the positioning of the icons in their order what makes it confusing to you.

In the Toolbar (Formerly ActionBar), icons are arranged according to the importance of their actions.

Select All is not as oftenly used as much as Copy is used.

While Copy is easily understandable since a Page is being shown over a Page signifying it's a duplicate,

Select All: It currently signifies that the Selected Square can be expanded through the Dotted Region, but I think it doesn't make much sense since you'll be selecting an Entire Page, not just Dotted area marked as a larger square.

Select All could have been clearer as @xabre mentions in the comments.

So, to summarize:

  1. The positioning of the icons according to their actions is incorrect since Copy is used more than Select All.

  2. The icon for Select All doesn't signify an entire page.

Here's a better solution:

Select All

It has a good contrast to avoid any confusion from the Copy icon and also is positioned according to the more likely used icons.


Icons by themselves are often confusing. Outlook 98 was a famous example that, at first, went with icons. Microsoft quickly realized that they had to add labels as well.

Android could help the situation by having a label or tool-tip appear when the user starts selecting text. This would keep the screen clean until the user begins the action.

[Don't focus too much on the example. It would have to be user tested. Is the font large enough? Should the contrast be greater, etc...)

enter image description here

  • +1 - there are very few buttons that can rely purely on an icon to communicate their action. If possible always accompany a label or other method of making clear what the action is. especially if its an action that requires to tap it to find out - by which point it might have triggered an action you didn't want to happen.
    – Dave Haigh
    Sep 23, 2015 at 13:55

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