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Let's say I'm using Bootstrap panels and I have these two choices:

Option A) Form with a button that says "+"

Option B) Form with a button that says "+ Add an item"

Which option is better from a UX perspective? Is a plus symbol without button text sufficient to denote adding of an Item?

Note that we are internationalizing the application later, so there is some marginal cost to translating button text throughout the application. There are multiple panels on the application.

We're in a soft launch phase, so there isn't a huge pool of users we can survey.

  • You mention that you can't survey users. But there are ways to run usability tests before you've launched. (These are much better than surveys, which rely on self-reporting, which is unreliable.) Have 5-7 individuals use the pre-launch system and watch them. That's all it takes. (You can even use paper prototypes. No working system necessary!) – Ken Mohnkern May 27 '16 at 1:30
  • "Survey" was a poor word choice - I meant even in the Lean Startup sense of interviewing users - that I'd have so few of them now. Regardless, could the plus sign be misconstrued as some other action? – vphilipnyc May 27 '16 at 1:58
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Yes more is better, but more brings clutter

Obviously the best option would be icon and label together. You are probably asking this question as you want to keep the UI clean, but there are too many features.

You could try what is known as progressive reduction http://www.dtelepathy.com/blog/design/progressive-reduction-evolving-the-experience-for-your-most-frequent-users

This approach minimizes the clutter in the ui based on the usage of each ui element. the thinking behind this is that when users that use a certain feature more often, they will be more familiar with it, hence the additional details, like labels can be eventually removed.

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  • This is exactly the type of solution that would fit into the project. Although I would still need to translate all the labels, the user experience for a beginner and power user would be handled well. – vphilipnyc May 27 '16 at 4:59
  • Very good answer! – Kristiyan Lukanov May 27 '16 at 7:36
  • On the flipside, more common interactions should br mapped to larger buttons. You'll notice that in the example they give, the text disappears but the icon grows to compensate. Going from (add item +) to (+) drastically shrinks the button size. Additionally, smaller buttons could influence the layout, moving the position of other buttons, which works against the idea of (muscle) memory and becoming familiar with the interface. – PixelSnader May 27 '16 at 11:45
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Icons with text typically perform better in usability testing over just icons alone. Google's Material Design (similar to Bootstrap) has been using the plus sign as a fly-out menu button, which has never made sense to me.

If you can test it, that'll give you the better approach. If you use it alone, the plus sign is fairly universally-understood as "add" and you may be ok if you have several different languages to translate.

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Therr are 2 questions you're asking here.

Is just a plus symbol enough?

This depends on the situation, but often it is. If you have a list of items and underneath you place a plus, people will be familiar enough with the concept of extending this list. If you put it in a menubar it might be confusing; are you adding a button to the menu, or is it a butto to add other content elsewhere.

Which of these is better?

The second one. Clarification is a good thing in usability, and in this case you have ample space for the text.

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