Why Is The Save Icon Still A Floppy Disk?

Applications like Microsoft Office undergo regular interface revamps, but one element weirdly persists. The icon for Save in many applications remains an image of a floppy disk, even though the floppy is now a moribund storage format.

Main picture by Chris Phan

I started reflecting on this after seeing a tweet from Fast Company writer Anjali Mullany discussing the weirdness of seeing a floppy disk on your screen on a regular basis:

Funny that in Microsoft Word the icon for “save” still appears to be a microfloppy in my version. Do the youngsters have no idea what it is?

While the floppy might seem old-fashioned, any change to the interface of a popular program will lead to howls of protest, as Microsoft learned with the Ribbon. Even if an actual floppy is no longer the storage medium of choice, the familiarity of the icon ultimately becomes much more important than the original “logic” behind choosing that symbol. (Some people simply won’t register it anyway: as a keyboard shortcut junkie, I rarely look at icons unless there’s no other alternative.)

This is a solid example of what semioticians call the arbitrariness of the sign: it doesn’t matter what label (or image) we attach to a particular concept, as long as everyone in a given community is in agreement on what that symbol means. We’re fond of trying to find logic in those associations (often after the fact), but logic is, in this context, far less important than continuity.

There are plenty of other old-fashioned icons around. Check the icon for making a call on your mobile; chances are it looks like no other phone you handle regularly. Which other icons do you find the most bizarre and arbitrary? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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