In The Elements of Style, the seminal writing and grammar book by Strunk and White, the authors have a style rule that states, “Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.” This rule advises writers to spell out acronyms in full unless they’re readily understood. For example, not everyone knows that madd is Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Acronyms come at the cost of clarity. “Many shortcuts are self-defeating,” the authors say, “they waste the reader’s time instead of conserving it.”
Icons are the acronyms of design. Designers often rely on them to communicate what an action or object does, instead of simply stating what the action or object is. Unless you’re using universally-recognized icons (which are rare), you’re more likely to harm the usability of an interface.
Do you know what the icons on the left mean?
So as Strunk and White advise, don’t take shortcuts at the cost of clarity. “The longest way round is usually the shortest way home.”