13 months ago the community decided to put an end to “Icon for X” questions. This was a good call then, but I feel the need to bring the subject up for revision again, it's been 13 months and all. I think no one answered the question better than Ben Brocka when he said the following:

I think this policy has gotten too far out of hand; any question asked in regards to an icon or visual metaphor is closed.

Asking what can represent a common action or concept is a perfectly valid question and is not too localized.

Questions that ask for specific icons or icons that fit their visual theme are probably too localized. The problem with this policy is those questions were always too localized, we didn't need extra policies to determine this.

Adding a defacto ban on "icon" questions just means anything with the word "icon" in the title is likely to be closed without regard to how localized the question actually is.

Good metaphors absolutely are a vital part of the user experience. By pretending metaphors are too localized in all context (they're not, that's why they're metaphors) we're harming the usefulness of the site.

Instead of closing "icon for X" questions we should consider editing them to make sure they're asking about what metaphors apply that could be used to pick an icon; this way we can help by explaining what metaphors may work or why iconic metaphors won't work in a situation.

Just because an asker thinks "icon" doesn't mean they're not really looking for a metaphor. If they're looking for a metaphor we can help them and it's not a specific icon request.

I think we can edit and reopen icon questions, if we call them visual metaphores instead. The reason for this is that a visual metaphor is not an icon - just a design scope coming from an idea of how to abstractly represent something. These questions have a value to the community, and I think we would gain traffic if we allowed visual metaphors to our content source.

So my suggestion is to revise questions like:

Think beyond icon and think visual metaphor on these questions instead - and what do we have then? In my opinion - something very useful and on topic.


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    It's hard to share this info since the deleted:1 search operator doesn't work, but we have a LOT of really, really bad icon questions that have since been closed and deleted. I think we're judging based on the tip of the iceberg here, the extremely small set of icon questions that don't absolutely suck. Despite my answer on the relevant earlier meta Q, more often than not, icon questions deserved to be closed. We'd need very explicit guidelines to help them un-suck.
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 22:00
  • @BenBrocka The idea is to save what can be saved from the old pile of closed icon questions, and possibly change the way forward for UX.SE to the direction of more of metaphoric ideas than graphic design of icons. This is my intention with current suggestion. Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 7:17

2 Answers 2


From my perspective, as long as the question is about an icon that would apply to a broader range of uses than whatever the op is working on, then it is fine.

So a question on an icon for privacy is fine, but a question on an icon for mattress types is not.

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    Icon requests have more problems than that though. Generally unless there's already a standard icon it degenerates into a list of possible suggestions with no real way to evaluate how good any particular one is, like this question and assorted others: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/17997/…
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 21:57
  • @BenBrocka Almost no questions on here have a good way to evaluate how good it is. They are almost all based on preference. I've seen many answers marked as correct that I disagree with. If that is the criteria, then we need to close the majority of the questions on here.
    – JohnGB Mod
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 22:07
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    Plenty of questions have a good way to evaluate how good they are. Examples, research, supporting arguments. Anything more than "I like a picture of a building" or "make the button red". Those should not be acceptable answers, regardless of whether one agrees with them. Heck, an upvote meaning nothing more than "I agree with this" instead of "this is useful information" is one of the biggest reasons those answers are harmful to the site. You can go anywhere for mindless options, people should come here for supported answers.
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 22:21
  • @BenBrocka More often than not when you break down the research, it is also an opinion.
    – JohnGB Mod
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 22:26

Well, yeah - we could re-open that discussion. Or, rather than ask for "good ideas" around certain topics, perhaps it would be better to ask for the significance behind certain selected icons.

Don't ask "How do you use an icon to represent 'click once' (not twice) [closed]", instead ask "What does this icon say to you?" and display a picture.

The end result is the same - opinions on a subject - but those opinions can be supported by facts. Rather than elicit comments like "I think a grave might be appropriate (or not)", the responses would be "In my culture/region/background, that particular image means nothing".

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