‘Trash’ or ‘Recycle Bin’? Taking things for granted

Some months ago I found this thread on Reddit’s often hilarious Tales From Tech Support subreddit:

recycle bin fail
Source: thread link

A user mistaking the Recycle Bin for a place where you “put documents in there to recycle for later projects” is a bit far-fetched to give as an example of interface design gone bad. It’s a gross misinterpretation of what seems to be a more or less clear system function. But it’s an interesting point to discuss the role of metaphors and ambiguity in visual systems.

Trash or Wastebasket, as it was used by the Macintosh, are much clearer names for the place where documents go to die. Also, the current icon for the Recycle Bin is much closer to a wastebasket representation that the original Windows 95 icon was. Microsoft’s motivation for calling it Recycle Bin was probably to avoid infringing Apple’s Intellectual Property, but there seems to be some self-awareness that the icon was not very reliable.

trash cans Mac and Windows
Left: the Mac’s old and new ‘trash’ icons, Right: Windows ‘Recycle Bins’ evolution

Regardless of motivations, when we have the choice, we should always go for the clearer option. Trash is always preferable over Recycle Bin. We should never assume that people will eventually get it, some people won’t. They won’t guess what the menu called “Feel” is about. Or what they can expect between clicking “Who we are” or “About us”. When in doubt, don’t take people for granted.


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