Sunday, February 10, 2013

Today I learned that my daughter has never seen a 3.5” disk

I was watching my 10 year old daughter work on a story in MS Word 2007. To save the document, she was going into the Word menu to select save. I asked her why she just didn’t click the save button. She said “What save button?”. I pointed out the save button that is just above the Home tab.

Word 2007 Save

She thought that was the print button. She had no idea that the save button glyph represented a 3.5” disk. She’s never seen one. I have some around, but it’s been years since I have actually used one of those guys.

I dug out an old 3.5 disk and gave it to my daughter. She had no idea what is was.  And was not impressed when I explained to her what it was.

blue floppy

The 3.5” disk had a good run, but it’s been 15 years since Apple came out with the first iMac without a floppy drive. It took a few years for the rest of the industry to catch up, but now the 3.5” disk is deader than a dot matrix printer. Which is another piece of computer technology that my daughter has never seen. 

For the last 20+ years, it has been common place to use a disk icon for the save button on toolbars and menus. I don’t think twice about it being obsolete technology, I just “know” that a disk image on a button means save. But for a 10 year old, she doesn’t have that frame of reference to identify the functio.  From her viewpoint, the closest match is a printer, their icons can look a bit like the disk icon.

The problem is that we really don’t have anything now to replace that image. What other object represents saving a file, and can be drawn in a 16x16 matrix? We’ll be carrying around that image for years after the last disk falls part. 

We carry around other baggage like that. It’s like dialing up someone on your cell phone. I can’t remember the last time I used a phone that had a dial on it. But the terminology is so well established, we just associate dialing with the act of placing a call.  It’s time to come up with some new visual metaphors.


  1. We don't need a new visual metaphor for 'save', what we really need is applications that just preserve the work we do without needing an explicit step. OneNote is a great example, more apps need to 'just work' like that


  3. The save as go behavior works great most of the time, but it fails when you are editing a document and you want to save it as a new document.

  4. When you want to save as another document you can just use the File-Save As... Menu option. There's no standard icon for that that I know of.


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