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The first Icons...

They chose their pictures well... well, scientifically. The icons that were eventually included with the Star Office Workstation were carefully engineered to be recognized quickly by the greatest variety of users... In fact, ``the [overall] design effort took more than six years... The actual implementation involved from 20 to eventually, 45 programmers...''[1] The `icon designers' mention no aesthetic considerations whatsoever in their drawing, testing, or selecting of icons to be included in the Star System. Still, these were the best graphical user interface icons ever developed--they were the only ones. Today, hundreds of additional icons have been tried in graphical applications to represent the same objects and functions. Many of the preferred icons in use today bear some resemblance to their ancestral Star bitmaps.

Figure 2:Original Xerox Star Icons

The role of the visual artist in modern user interface design is always increasing. Teams working on big GUI projects are expected to include an artist on the design team from the very beginning. Too many times in the past, the visual artist has not hired to help design a user interface until a conflict arises within a design team. When software is designed by a committee, and an internal disagreement arises over how some graphical element of an application should be implemented, graphical artists are ``...often treated as `firefighters'--called upon in an emergency to repair disasters not of their own making, under severe time constraints.''[19] Obviously, this is not giving end users the benefit of an interface that has been visually conceived from day one. Experts such as Bruce Tognazzini of Apple Computer highly recommend that at least one visual artist participate in every user interface design project from the outset:
Graphic designers should be brought in at the beginning of a project, not the end; until the rest of the team sees the designer in action, they will not think visually. Those of us who lack the talent to draw have long since learned to avoid coming up with ideas that require drawing! Once having been exposed, people will start thinking visually and will get the habit of doing quick place-holder graphics, to be worked up and worked over by the graphic designer later on.[16]
At the same time that there is an effort on the part of other team members to participate actively in the visual design, graphic artists should brush up on the cognitive psychology research that has been done on vision, icons and recognition, symbols, and semiotics.


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sean dreilinger

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