Being "minimalist" and "streamlined" is not always most effective. Have you ever written yourself a quick, shorthand note, only to find later that you had no way to unpack your own great idea? Icons work similarly. They are pictures – meant to provide a visual shorthand to users moving through a task. While research indicates that icons are best when initially paired with text to increase recognition and learnability, users experienced with a given set of icons will begin to ignore the text, scanning for and acting from the image alone.
The arrow and its brethren are everywhere on our computer screens. For example, a quick examination of the Firefox 3.0 browser, shown in Figure 1 in its standard configuration, yields eight examples of arrows—Forward, Back, and Reload buttons, scroll bar controls, and drop-down menus that reveal search engine, history, and bookmark choices.
Of all the objects that occupy our digital spaces, there are none that capture the imagination so much as icons. As symbols, icons can communicate powerfully, be delightful, add to the aesthetic value of software, engage people's curiosity and playfulness, and encourage experimentation. These symbols are key components of a graphic user interface--mediators between our thoughts and actions, our intentions and accomplishments.