Labels always win.

In the battle of clarity between icons and labels, labels always win.

We’ve been using Layervault at HubSpot for a week or so now. It’s a beautiful app, and has a lot of really nice UI touches. The first thing you notice when using the app is that it’s a good example of a flat UI…and the team has written about their thoughts on that.

And while I applaud the minimalist aesthetic and the push toward eliminating elements from the interface (something good designers continuously do) I believe they’ve gone one step too far…they’ve removed labels from their navigation bar. Here is what it looks like:


I have used this UI now for a week and I still have do a double-take each time I want to navigate. I’m not learning what the icons mean. The folder icon represents “projects”, which I can usually remember (but I think I remember it because it’s simply the first and default option). The second icon, a factory, is actually a link to the “Manage” screen, where you manage people and projects. This trips me up every time. (there isn’t hover text either…I find myself looking at the URL in the status bar to confirm where I’m going).

My guess is that in an attempt to be as minimal as possible the designers removed every single thing except what they deemed truly necessary. This should be applauded! (and in general the design is excellent…I’m simply mentioning this because I noticed it right now) However, I think labels should be kept around in almost all cases as they turn guesses into clear decisions. Nothing says “manage” like “manage”. In other words, in the battle of clarity between icons and labels, labels always win.

Published: February 1st, 2013