new working set icons... not unique?

Sven Brauch svenbrauch at
Wed Dec 18 22:23:09 GMT 2013


> I was sufficiently curious to play around with it :-). Attached is the
> script (using PySide, can likely trivially adapt to PyQt) I whipped together
> to see what it would look like. The 3x3 grid isn't terrible. If you'd be
> willing to lose the clear separation of cells, 8x8 with 128+ steps could
> also be interesting. (IIRC the algorithm I was reading about only uses a
> grid of about 7x9. You can get away with a much lower grid size if the cell
> color isn't constant.)
Haha, nice. Yes, I'm surprised the 3x3 grid is actually quite okay.
Still, I see the same problem here ... the number of 16x16 icons which
are distinguishable and rememberable are simply too limited to
generate them in a way such that random selection works without
clashes. The current algorithm doesn't have a lot of clashes, but as
you see, it's enough to make people unhappy ;)
The more possibilities your algorithm uses, the more formally
different icons you can generate of course, but that goes at cost of
recognizable and rememberable icons... and I tried to find a balance
between them. I failed, in that there's not enough options to make it
work without clashes. But I don't think adding more options works as a

> ...I was already assuming this is what you would do :-).
No, just the ID is stored currently, nothing about the icon at all.
The icon is drawn on request.

> (And anyway, didn't
> the sessions used to store the name of the icon being used? So the only
> change is instead of e.g. "alarm", "user-identity", etc. the string would be
> a few hexadecimal digits.)
Yes but that code was ugly and I'm glad I deleted it :D
Anyways, it could be re-added in a less horrible way, of course.

> I do wonder if a 3x3 grid would be okay; the dots are still fairly large,
> and that would give 512 possibilities before even considering color.
Well, initially I had different colors for the dots. But it turned out
to be very hard to remember and recognize; they all looked somehow
colorful, but it was hard to find an icon again. That's what I think
the current icons do well: If you look for the icon with the red dot
in the upper right corner, you'll find it very quickly.

> That said... my knee-jerk response is that it's easy to remember things that
> have a clear association with a word. Especially if the word accidentally
> happens to be relevant to the working set ;-).
Hm, yes, some people can build such associations based on subtle
similarities between things, but others can not, and for them it's
just weird to have random application icons used there. Especially for
new users, it clutters the UI with wrong associations; I have seen
more than one user confused about what that alarm icon up there meant.
Of course the current icons don't tell much either, but at least they
don't suggest you can set an alarm for when your tea is done.

Overall, here's my suggestion: I will write something which either
stores the icons or does a different clever thing so that we're
guaranteed to not get indistinguishable icons any more. That'll take a
few days and then we can talk about how memorable they are again


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