Share Icons. Are they really important? Yes!

As marketers, we want people to share our content. After all, we work hard to write interesting blogs, film cool videos, record intriguing podcasts… so it’s only natural that we’d want you to SHARE them, right?

But, sharing online isn’t so easy. In fact, many of us are downright confounded by it.

Where You See Share Icons

So, where do Share Icons come to play?

  1. Social Media
  2. Blogs
  3. Any news article ever

In today’s environment, seeing a “share icon” isn’t cause for alarm – or excitement, or anything really. A Share Icon is pretty standard.

The Many Faces of a Share Icon

Share Icons are not created equal. In fact, it’s not really clear what the Share Icon should look like.

Let’s be clear: Share Icons are standard, but the way the look is anything but!

“Sharing to a social network or via email is a ubiquitous action nowadays but designers have still not been able to reach a consensus on what symbol to use to represent it.” – Min Ming Lo, “Share: The Icon No One Agrees On”

Yeah, it’s the same story you’ve heard before: the major players just can’t agree.

Don’t believe me? Check out “All the Share Icons” from Min Ming Lo’s blog:

All the Share Icons by Ming Lo

Usability… or Ego?

“Apple will not start using Android’s design language, Google is not going to implement Microsoft’s design, nor is Microsoft going to use another platform’s share icons. Since each of the big three OS companies individually has huge device market share, users will likely interact with at least three different types of symbols that represent the same action.”

Why this is a Problem

Thanks, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Guess we can’t agree.

The thing is, it’s not really about agreement or consensus… it’s about people.

The major problem with not standardizing the Share Icon is that icons are meant for immediate communication – if we have fifteen different icons to choose from, we’ll get confused. That’s just too many symbols to remember for one action.

And, heaven forbid, what if we come across a share button that’s not on our list? Think we’re going to understand that? Not likely…

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The Share Icon: An Experiment

I was extremely interested in the Share Icon and how people interpreted the symbols related to it. That’s why I decided to engage in a quick, easy experiment at Artonic.

I created a simple graph of eight unique Share Icons that are used by multiple applications today.

Share Icons from Facebook, Google+, iPhone, Android, Windows 8, and Open Share
The Results?I asked the simple question: Which icon represents the action “Share?”

8/8 people said Facebook.

Why?

Think about it. It’s the only icon that has the word “share” included. Why is this important? Because even though the arrow is recognizable and somewhat instinctive, adding “Share” confirms the user’s thoughts.

One of my co-workers summarized it like this:

“Arrow implies moving or transferring info; action. Easy to understand at a glance, the essence of what the result will be when I click. This is better than Google+ in that it uses the word “Share.” iPhone icon lacks the word “Share,” making this arrow more ambiguous. For example, since the arrow is pointing up, does that mean upload?

Android & Windows 8 are similar in that they show connecting dots, but this imagery implies “connection” rather than “sharing.” In other words, the icon is ambiguous. Windows 8 is better at clarifying/interpreting the icon because it uses the word “Share.”

Conclusion: It’s Good to Share

I think it’s obvious that we need a global Share Icon that everyone understands and uses. And even if we can’t decide on one, there is absolutely no need for fifteen. Am I right?

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If you’re serious about user experience on your website, let Artonic know. We’ll help you out.

Want More? Check out these resources:

The Share Icon No One Agrees On

We Need a Ubiquitous Share Icon

How & Why Icons Improve Your Web Design

Why Icons Matter

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