Sunday, March 30, 2008


Last week, I called AT&T/Cingular with a problem on my cellphone. The voicemail icon on the phone wouldn't go away even though I had no voicemail. It was a problem that was fairly easily remedied.

However, in the process of my call, I had a fascinating interaction. When the customer service agent said, "how can I help you today?" I responded by saying that the voicemail icon on my phone wouldn't turn off. "Icon" she said. What is that? She may have asked if it was the picture on the phone. I don't remember. What I remember is the curiousity surrounding the interaction with the customer service agent at a cell phone company who didn't know, at least not for sure, what an icon was. "Icon", I supposed, is a bit of a specialty word. Maybe more recognized by interaction designers and designers in general.

A quick google search shows 531,000,000 hits for the word "icon". Wikipedia has entries for both the religious and the computer pictogram types of icons. So how did AT&T manage to miss this in their customer service training? It's really not her fault, but one does wonder if/how these folks are trained and compensated to do what is rapidly becoming anything but a minimum wage job, working customer service for our increasingly complicated mobile technology.
And, as an afterthought, I have to ask. What IS that icon anyway? It looks a bit like an old cassette tape winding. Given that most of us have probably not used a cassette tape answering machine in at least 10 years, it is the designers job to work on a new image. Think digital, think people, think asynchronous communication, think voice. I'm no graphic designer, but perhaps this will spur someone to replace the archaic cassette with an icon, yes a picture, of voicemail for the digital age.

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