Usability / UI experts - A suggestion for something better than the lock icon for closed topics


TLDR - I think the lock icon conveys the wrong meaning, is mostly unnecessary and calls too much attention to itself

Lock == locked, which to me means that it likely will be unlocked and can be added to in the future.
Closed means that it has been shut down and there is little likelihood that it will be reopened in the future.

For a forum, traditionally locked means that the moderator has decided to have this pinned to the top of the page and there is nothing you can do about it. Which is not what it means in this case.

The lock in this case is supposed to signify that I can’t add new information to the discussion.

I think if the item is important enough that you need to highlight it at the top, you don’t really need to make people think about whether or not they need to join in on the conversation. The action you are trying to promote is read, not participate.

I suggest a reconsider as to whether or not the lock needs to be displayed in the topic list at all. (I don’t mind the SE [closed]). At least don’t stick it as one of the first dark icons on the row as it draws too much attention to itself for something that will only affect my behaviour one in 1,000,00 times. Think about it, how many times is someone going to see a topic and without reading what’s inside think, I wish I could have participated in that conversation, but it’s closed.

Most people who participated in a closed topic and were invested in it would already be aware that it was shut down.

For the case above where it is an announcement, then the pin functionality suffices.

(Jeff Atwood) #2

I don’t agree on one fundamental basis – the ability to reply is an essential part of a conversation in any system based on discussion. No conversations, no discussion, almost no point to entering the topic in the first place. In a closed topic, you can’t be a an active part of the conversation, only a passive reader.

However, I agree that the lock icon is a bit overloaded at the moment since the lock means PM as well.

I’m open to hearing other icons that might make sense here, I much prefer an icon to “[closed]” at the end of a topic title, because you should know before even entering or even reading the topic title that you have no chance of engaging in that conversation.

Any icon from the Font Awesome set is fair game:

(Lee Dohm) #3

If I was going to pick an alternate icon for the closed topic, it would be icon-ban-circle. Other than the unfortunate term “ban” in the name, anyway.

(Jeff Atwood) #4

Maybe, though I wonder if the giant circle-with-slash is kind of severe. It’s not bad though, and the lock is a pretty intense symbol, too. Any other suggestions?

(Benjol) #5

A bit of a stretch, but icon-pause?

(Jeff Atwood) #6

I am thinking maybe Font Awesome, the iconic font and CSS toolkit might be better.

(Valts) #7

I kinda like the lock. To me it conveys exactly what is intended - topic locked (read-only). As for the “likelihood of opening” - I seriously doubt there is the need to distinguish this subtle difference between “locked” and “closed”. In fact, this is the first time I’ve even heard someone make such a distinction.

When a topic is locked (closed?), 99% of cases it stays that way. It’s quite rare that a topic gets unlocked again. Well, unless it’s like SE which has voting for such things. But here it’s moderator-controlled, and moderators tend not to change their opinions about what should be locked and what shouldn’t.

I do however think that a lock icon for PM’s is kinda weird. Perhaps a speech bubble would be better?

(Jeff Atwood) #8

Why is a lock for PMs weird? They are locked from viewing by anyone but you and the person you are PM’ing.

Granted we have group PMs here with invitations, which are only allowed for moderators at the moment, but the principle holds. These are private.

(Valts) #9

Because the lock icon suggests that something is “locked, fixed in place and inaccessible (or read-only)”. I remember being confused about the icon when I got my first PM notification. What does that mean? Is the message read-only? Why is it marked as locked? How do I unlock the PM? Can I even see it?

A lock icon conveys the idea that item X is locked for everyone, except maybe for someone with admin superpowers. At the very least, you’ll need to unlock it before you can work with it. In other words - if you see a lock icon, that means that it’s locked for you. Unless you have superpowers - access denied.

Well, I don’t know, maybe I’m the only weirdo with such ideas. And, looking now on Iconfinder, it seems that the words “private” and “privacy” do bring up more locks than anything else. But there are also keys and sunglasses.

(David Smith) #10

The lock icon is heavily used to mean secure and security, eg in Safari for pages fetched over SSL. I’m not sure icon-minus-sign would be an improvement: it strongly resembles a ‘no entry’ sign.

Perhaps a better icon might be (sadly not in Font Awesome) icon-comment or icon-comments with a bar, to mean “comments not allowed”. But this might be confused with the notifications icon in the header.

I too don’t feel that a lock icon is right for PMs. Maybe icon-circle-arrow-right then icon-circle-arrow-left, or just icon-user. (Group PMs could use icon-group.)

(Aahan Krish) #11

As @codinghorror said (when referring to PMs):

I think the icon-ban-circle icon, which also resembles the NO ENTRY symbol, suits PMs better than a lock symbol. IMO, yes, lock symbol is indeed weird for PMs.

As @Vilx said, the icon-lock icon is better suited for closed/locked topics. That’s just my opinion.

(Valts) #12

Here’s a good one: icon-phone-sign. Since there is no voice chat (nor would it make sense in Discourse), a phone icon would be the perfect idiom for a private conversation, no?

(Tim Stone) #13

That’s a fairly obscure way of saying that they’re hidden/non-public. I feel like icon-eye-close or icon-envelope-alt might make more sense for PMs, personally.

(Aahan Krish) #14

@Vilx I don’t think so. People (the normal users) need to understand what it is at a glance. That’s the whole point of using an icon instead of ‘text’, as Jeff said earlier.

@tms General usage for the ‘eye’ and ‘eye-off’ symbols is subscribe/unsubscribe, and maybe you know it already. Otherwise, yeah, looks like a good suggestion. (Nevertheless I believe it’d suit best if there are private areas on your forum that are restricted to a select few users/groups…) I think icon-envelope-alt is more to the point.

My understanding could be wrong though.

(Lee Dohm) #15

I did some searching around and the lock icon seems to be a common theme for a locked or closed topic. Both the World of Warcraft forums and phpBB use it. I could search around some more, but I’m pretty certain I would find many more examples and few counter-examples.

I see it like using a floppy disk icon for Save or a month calendar for your appointment book app. Even though there are people that have never seen or used a floppy disk and the traditional calendar is going away too, people have been using these icons to mean these things for years and years and they carry that association. Just like :mens: or :womens: means bathroom even though there is no depiction of elimination … you picked it up through association.

I don’t think there is as common an association with locks for PMs though.

(Nicholas Smith) #16

What about making the topic “Read-Only” instead of Locked / Closed?

(Valts) #17

Envelope! Right! How could I forget? I totally second this option!

(Alexander) #18

Another thumbs up for icon-minus-sign for “locked thread” (I like the slight association with a Do Not Enter sign) and icon-envelope-alt for PM.

(Jeff Atwood) #19

Icon eye close is already used for invisible topics, at least for moderators. Works quite well for that too.

(Jeff Atwood) #20

Ironically I now think the lock is exactly correct for closed topics after this discussion, particularly based on @lee_dohm’s observations.

However, I tend to agree with others like @avaragado, @vilx, @alxndr here that the PM should not be a lock, but the envelope – so I made that change. In the next build PMs will be the black (filled) envelope glyph, not the lock.