As we get closer to releasing Shiretoko (Firefox 3.5) we are considering that this might be a good time to update and evolve the Firefox application icon. We will likely be leveraging some conceptual work created by Jon Hicks during the development of Firefox 3, but otherwise we are just now getting started.
As the project progresses I’ll be posting to this blog the creative briefs as we send them out, draft artwork as it comes in, and I’ll be highlighting some of the feedback we are receiving from the community. I’ll also be posting regular updates to mozilla.dev.apps.firefox
But before diving too deep into the specifics of how the Firefox icon might be evolving, I would like have at least one post focusing on the higher level question of why refreshing the icon is probably a good idea.
A Visual Indication of Progress
When thinking about how people perceive a software application, I often picture the tip of an iceberg. So much of the innovation, hard work and brainpower from our development community goes into significant and important improvements that usually aren’t readily apparent to the user. This is particularly true when you are building a Web browser, since the application is fundamentally creating a platform for other applications.
But all of these improvements, despite being really powerful for the development of the Web, are not exactly apparent before you even launch the application. And because of this it is perhaps too easy to unfairly assume when you download the new version that the product is stagnating, and that unlike a (admittedly very shiny) competitor, we are no longer on the bleeding edge of pushing the Web forward.
The Icon as a Chassis
Something else that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is how effectively visual information in an exterior chassis can communicate the power of the complex system that it contains. Two examples would be the design of sports cars and the industrial design of high end gaming computers. In the case of sports cars, you can look at a still image of a car you have never seen before, and immediately assume from the air vents and arcs in the exterior body that it is in fact a really high performance vehicle. In reality it might be a concept car that doesn’t even contain an engine, and people have to push it around. Somehow the same psychological biases come into play with gaming pcs, and the ironic thing is that they aren’t even meant to move to begin with, so the extent to which they are aerodynamic is perhaps even more curious.
Another similarity between sports cars and the industrial design of high end gaming pcs is that their appearance evolves rapidly enough over time that it is obvious that the older models are starting to get really out of date.
So what do these physical chassis that contain engines and processors have to do with the Firefox icon? In many ways all three have to complete the same objective: they all have to instantly communicate to the driver/gamer/user how powerful, well built, and brand new they are. Now of course aerodynamic properties are even less relevant in the world of software, but nevertheless the OS X 10.5 dock is considerably more aerodynamic than the OS X 10.4 dock.
So to answer the question of why I think refreshing the Firefox application icon for 3.5 is worthwhile, it’s because I think we should be viewing the icon as an exterior chassis for an underlying engine that has recently undergone some really significant changes.