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The Proper Way to Use Plus Icons on Interfaces

Creating new data is a different affordance than performing a command. Performing a command enables the system to process and manipulate existing data. Creation enables the system to add new data to the existing data.

As such, the cue to use for data creation should include more than a button label. A plus icon is necessary to signify the addition of data. Excluding the plus icon and using a label only as a cue makes the affordance harder to recognize.

A label-only cue requires more cognitive effort to process. The plus icon allows users to understand the affordance faster without as much cognitive processing. A label imports its meaning in multiple words. As such, users have to process each word and all the words together to comprehend the meaning. An icon imports its meaning in a single symbol that users can understand through visual recognition.

You can reduce cognitive load by using the plus icon without the label next to a header. Doing this reduces the redundant text, so users don’t have to think because the header already describes the items. Instead, they can recognize the icon instead of reading the label, which is a lot quicker.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sam Reply

    “A label-only cue requires more cognitive effort to process. The plus icon allows users to understand the affordance faster without as much cognitive processing.”

    You’re suggesting that a label…actual words…take more time for a person to process and map than an icon alone? Specifically the ‘plus’ icon? I’d love to see the research that supports that.

    • anthony Reply

      A single symbol imports meaning faster than multiple words. Users have to process each word and all the words together to understand a label. But they only have to glance at a symbol to recognize its meaning.

      Same reason “2+2=4” is quicker to process over “Two plus two equals four.”

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