I have a list of human work task, which each row has an icon on the left side to indicate if the task on the row has already finish or still in progress. For finish, I have no problem with the icon design. But for work in progress, I feel no icon can represent what I mean. Some icon ideas I found on the internet:

  • An icon of a worker with shovel shoving dirt. (But I found this is too complex and can't convey "simplicity", and maybe not too self-explanatory if I only use silhouette of it)
  • An icon of three dots. (But for me, three dots can also meaning there's a message or an action is waiting to be engaged)
  • An icon of two circular arrow pointing to each other's end. (But isn't this icon for "refresh"?)
  • An icon of Apple's rotating in progress (busy) image. (But this is a static image, and that also has more computer work meaning than human work)

This is just my interpretation of those icons, which made me conclude those four type of icons can't represent my "work in progress" meaning. Do you have other suggestion? Or do you have different interpretation about these icons that they might fit my purpose?

2 Answers 2


Icons is a very complex matter. What I mean is that if you respect the rules of UX, there are only a few icons that are very well known globally that don't need a label to be understood. Icons can often get different interpretations (related to culture, related to imagination, related to context, related to metaphors). However context can help as well.

For your specific question, I think that indeed using color can be a good thing (referring to a status, but again watch out for cultural differences in color meaning) and/or using a clock for in progress can make sense, but again I would recommend to add a label to avoid confusion if the standalone icon is in danger for different interpretations.

My solution would be: enter image description here

I hope it helps you ;-)

  • It blew my mind why I haven't thought about a clock icon in the first place. I agree that color can means very different things on different culture and will try to keep that in mind. Thank you very much! Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 3:51
  • Gears/cogs can also represent the idea of work in progress (as one might describe a slow progress that is underway within an organisation: "the cogs are churning"). Similar to the clock face but more concerned with the "doing" (cogs turn the clock face,after all). Gears/cogs have often been used to represent settings, however,and that could cause some confusion (similarly, clocks have typically been used to represent an alarm or the time).
    – straya
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 5:37

It is pretty common to represent "work in progress"-states with color variations using the same icon as the "complete state".

You could take a look at a few online scrum tools to get some more inspiration on how they do it. Since they all tackle "work in progress"-states.

One example is Microsofts Visual Studio Online: (see picture)

enter image description here

  • This is a great example, although I also concern about the users which suffer color blindness. That's why I also prefer to combine it with illustration. But thanks for the inspiration! I might use this for another situation. :) oh, and good point about the scrum tools! Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 3:53

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