Replacing the Save Icon

Floppy Disk IconThe Save icon – that little ol’ floppy disk that exists in nearly every application sitting on your computer and on the Web. A representation of a piece of technology so utterly out of date that it’s meaning has shifted away from its physical existence into a concept of safety and permanence.

As a means of storage it was convenient by the standards of the day, but not necessarily that reliable and yet we’ve held onto it as a symbol, in large part because everyone who uses a computer recognizes it. So I recognize the fact that we’re unlikely to actually change it any time soon, I thought it would be fun to explore alternatives, so I asked the members of Refresh Austin, those who follow me on Twitter and my friends on Facebook for their ideas on a replacement. Those conversations generated some great ideas, which I present to you.

The Question

I asked “If it were up to you to change the old floppy disk as the “save” icon across all Web and desktop apps, what would you choose?”

The Answers

Physical Representations

Hard Drive icon Several responses recommended a hard drive, replacing one form of physical media with another, more accurate version. Though as William Yarbrough noted, it may not work as well for apps in the cloud.

safe-icon.png Keith Aric Hall was the first of many to recommend a vaults or safe. I like this idea as it reinforces the concept of “save”. As Frank Robinson noted, those also imply encryption or file-locking, so he suggested a two-drawer filing cabinet.

Terry Brown brought up the idea that since the Open icon is often an arrow pointing out of a folder, then having an arrow point into the folder would make sense for Save.

entry_saved.png Michelle McGonagle recommended a document with a checkmark and then took a larger step outside of the normal bounds by suggesting a treasure chest or empty jar, both of which are technology-agnostic. Keith noted that many CMSes use the document with a check icon to denote “Approve for Publishing”, which could be problematic.

Mental Concepts

box_address.png Clouds and Boxes proved popular, often accompanied by an arrow.

Diana Dupuis suggested a red “S” in a thin black circle.

The response from Steven Harms is too good to not quote outright:

The notion that is important is the locking of bits into a static form: stored in a cloud, stored on a disk, stored on a CD. The trouble is that those icons would be “lock” or “frosty-ness.” The former is visually synonymous with “security” and the latter with Wendy’s, so neither has quite the right visual glyph-set.

Other Notes

Annette Priest brought up some great points, including the fact that we’re on the verge of needing to replace phone icons as well. She also noted that perhaps we should look at a shift towards gestures for the action instead of an icon. Follow a certain pattern with your mouse or device and your work is saved.

Ryan Joy brought up the point that sometimes “save means ‘save draft’ or state and other times it’s intended as ‘publish'”. So, a bigger question may arise as to how and if we differentiate those concepts via icons.

What Do You Think?

A definitive answer was never the point, rather the conversation is the key, and it has been great so far. I’d love for you to jump in with your ideas to keep this going!.


All icons except for the safe, which is from VisualPharm are available as a part of the Flavour Extended Icon set by Oliver Twardowski.


  1. says

    If it were up to me, everything would work like MS OneNote and save without forcing me to click a button. And it wouldn’t ask me “Do you want to save?” either, which seems like a relic from the time when disk space was scarce.

    So, can we just get rid of that button?

  2. says

    Something that David Hayes had brought up to me was the idea of reinforcing the idea behind versioning. Rather than prompt users to think about saving a single file, save multiple versions like rewinding (think Google Wave) that simply take ‘photographs’ of the file at a given point of editing.

    Though this might not be a familiar to those outside technology fields, the idea seems to be coming into non-technical worlds as the cloud becomes more of a mainstream option.

  3. says

    John and William – I agree, there’s a definite value to auto-saves/snapshots, which I love. That said, I think there are still processes, both on the desktop and on the Web where the save process requires a significant amount of time or processing power that would impede flow. Saving a Photoshop or Illustrator file automatically could prove very inconvenient. So I think we do still need a representation, though it could be as simple as the word Save.

    For those cases where the save can be instantaneous (most anything text-based), then auto-save functions should be baked right in. There are also half-steps that are very useful, like saving when the focus shifts from that application to another one.

    Thanks for commenting guys, I’m glad this is spurring a conversation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>