An exploration of visual indicators in real life – UX Collective

Extending UX and interface design principles beyond digital products

Visual indicators are used to make certain items stand out from the crowd. They don’t require the user to take action, but act as communication tools to cue something noteworthy. Indicators are not always present but appear under certain conditions. To communicate their message, indicators can take the form of icons, typographical styling, enlarged size, color variations, animation, and more.

In the digital world, examples of indicators can be found everywhere. Gmail, for example, uses paper clip icons to show which messages have attachments and yellow stars to mark saved threads. Users of Todoist indicate an item’s priority by the checkbox color and can easily see which ones have comment history. When updates are downloading, progress indicators overlay app icons on iOS to show the user how much download time remains.

One thing I love about working in UX and interface design is that the principles and elements extend beyond digital products. Indicators, like affordances and signifiers, exist in the world around us, communicating messages about the entities they represent. The most explicit method of using visual indicators is with added text, such as marking items in a department store with “20% off!” tags.

For this exploration, I wanted to focus specifically on non-text indicators that exist in the physical world. Rather than added text, they use color, orientation, and movement.

Author: Joe Caron

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