Kineticons: Using Iconographic Motion in Graphical User Interface Design

Graphical icons, without doubt, are a critical component of computing’s successes. Their ability to convey information in a fairly universal fashion allows users to immediately interact with new applications, systems and devices. People’s ability to pick up e.g., an iPhone for the first time and successfully use a wide variety of its features is a remarkable achievement. Conversely, walking up to a command line interface offers no similar affordances. The user, even if knowledgeable with other command line systems, must essentially follow a trial-and-error approach.

In this work, we define a new type of iconographic scheme for graphical user interfaces based on motion. We refer to these “kinetic icons” as kineticons. This offers a name to an existing, but loosely applied interaction technique. In contrast to static icons and icons with animated graphics, kinetic behaviors do not alter the visual content or pixels’ RGBA values of an element (where as e.g., fades, blurs, tints, and addition of new graphics exclusively changes the pixels). Stated differently, pixels in an icon can be moved, rotated, stretched, and so on - but not altered or added to.

To illustrate and motivate our approach, we review eight example classes of interactions where kineticons could enhance current user interfaces. We also generated an initial kineticon vocabulary and evaluated them in a 200 participant user study, from which we draw many conclusions and design recommendations.



Harrison, C., Hsieh, G., Willis, K. D. D., Forlizzi, J. and Hudson, S. E. 2011. Kineticons: Using Iconographic Motion in Graphical User Interface Design. In Proceedings of the 29th Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Vancouver, Canada, May 7 - 12, 2011). CHI '11. ACM, New York, NY. 1999-2008.

© Chris Harrison