The primary role of icons is to make software interaction more efficient. As the world around us becomes increasingly digitised, technology is giving us more and more solutions to real world problems. The potential application of icons for real world issues should not be ignored.

Touchscreen technology has contributed a lot to helping disabled people through their day-to-day lives. The application of icons to more everyday issues could help this even more. Particularly for people with low vision or other difficulties with sight, large, brightly-coloured icons on things like Smart TVs and phones have helped improve usability for disabled people across the globe. A further move away from text-based signs could help this. For example, ticket machines at train stations could start using large icons rather than text searches. Other things such as kitchen appliances, which are just starting to have touchscreens added to them for functionality, could start having good icon design incorporated into them to help disabled people. In this regard, icons go a long way to helping disabled people cope with real-world problems.

Helping all end users

Icons are there to help people navigate software, so they could potentially be used to help all end-users interact with their surroundings. We have seen this in the rise of Smart TVs, which boast a vast range of streaming and internet-based features. Samsung made sure that the Smart TVs, in their latest iteration, had icon-heavy interfaces to help all users navigate easily. This solves a number of basic problems. For example, many cars now have some sort of touchscreen interface integrated with the dashboard, opening up a whole new range of possibilities for design. A touchscreen ‘ignition’ icon integrated with a fingerprint reader could prove a new, ultra-secure and easy way of starting up the car – no more lost keys!

Solving environmental problems

The increased use of icons in day-to-day life might also solve some environmental problems. Rather than manufacturing whole sets of buttons on a microwave, for example, companies could design a single icon-based touchscreen interface that would represent a simplified and more eco-friendly way of using the microwave. Every year, a huge carbon footprint is created by manufacturing all sorts of tiny parts and switches for household appliances, usually with non-recyclable or biodegradable materials. Swapping a collection of buttons for a group of icons would surely minimise this process.

World-wide language of icons

In a way, icons have already given a ‘solution’ of all sorts to people expressing themselves – just think of emoticons on messenger applications! Icons of all kinds really are capable of conveying complex messages in a simple way, a phenomenon that will only be on the rise as technology becomes more streamlined. A whole language of icons is now being used worldwide, across cultural borders, as a means of communication. This ‘language’ is just one small aspect of globalisation, but it has surely made its mark on the way people communicate beyond language barriers.

It’s obvious that we can’t solve every real world problem just by designing great computer icons. But intelligent design and application of icons has already had a huge impact on the problems many people face in their day-to-day lives. This will only continue in ways we may never be able to predict.

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