CCE Theses and Dissertations

A Predictive Model to Test Icons for a Global Audience

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Laurie Dringus

Committee Member

Maxine S. Cohen

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell


Icon design and meaningful interpretation of icons continue to be a challenge in user interface design. Icons that distract, confuse or simply bewilder uninitiated users are common in the current generation of user interfaces. The meaning of icons should be obvious, evocative, and self-evident to users, but most icons fail to meet these criteria. Additionally, culture is a factor in determining the interpretation of icons in user interfaces. User interfaces are being developed in a limited number of languages and for a limited number of cultures and are therefore not developed for every known culture. The design and use of cross-cultural icons is an important area that needs more investigation and icon design methods should be examined with populations that vary in cultural background. Although models have been developed that would allow designers to test icons early in the design phase of development, these models were not designed for a global audience. No distinction was made in previous research between Westerners and non-Westerners. Additionally, no other research has been found that has focused on this distinction directly.

The goal of this study was to develop four models for icon designers to test new icons for a global audience. There was one model for each of four categories of computer users: Westerner and novice computer user; non-Westerner and novice computer user; Westerner and proficient computer user; and non-Westerner and proficient computer user. In addition to providing guidance to improve the design, the models were able to predict the ability of an icon to communicate its meaning to a global audience. This study also found that when examining the cognitive data there was no significant interaction between the level of computer experience and cultural origin. This study significantly advanced knowledge and improved professional practice by developing new knowledge about icon understanding for global audiences. This study is relevant to the development and testing of prospective icons. The predictive models that were developed by Gutekunst in 1996, do not appear to be relevant for non-Western users for the sample population used in this study. Additionally, their fit for Westerners was only nominally better. The first survey, the Icon Meaning survey, captured the data that provided the significant portion of the explanation for the predictive models.

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