Symbolizing undo

Jess Mitchell jess at
Wed Aug 27 04:03:21 UTC 2008


This is an awesome post!  I love the context and historical perspective.

One thing I did notice about your examples that makes them tough to  
represent is that they are active.  We need to show activity in a  
static image -- to state the obvious.

So, that's got me going in the direction of the "directional."  The  
arrow is what most undo icons use.  And I'm not sure what else conveys  

Practically speaking, I wonder if Eli has started off in the direction  
of trying text already, as Daphne mentioned earlier in the post?  I  
like the keeping it simple principle and I think the text might do  
that nicely.


Jess Mitchell
Project Manager / Fluid Project
jess at
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On Aug 26, 2008, at 8:09 PM, Paul Zablosky wrote:

> After Eli's challenge this morning for someone to come up with an  
> undo icon, I did a bit of hunting around to see if I could find  
> something better than a semi-circular arrow.  A search for "undo  
> icon" turned up hundreds of examples, but they were pretty well all  
> just different renditions of the arrow, always pointing in a counter- 
> clockwise direction.
>  The OED was not much help, although it does tell us that the word  
> "undo", with the meaning of "To reverse the doing or making of (some  
> material thing or effect) so as to restore the original form or  
> condition" goes back to 1426 -- so it's not a recent concept.
> I tried to think of metaphors for "undoing" something.  A common  
> metaphor for progress is time moving forward, so a clock running  
> backwards is a sensible image to convey retrograde motion, but I  
> don't think it would work as a symbol.  It turns out that the notion  
> of counter-clockwise motion is historically linked to regress (see  
> the word "widdershins"), so this explains somewhat the origin of a  
> counter-clockwise pointing arrow for undo, and a clockwise arrow for  
> redo.
> I agree with Daphne that it's worth looking for something better,  
> but all the images I can think of are too complex:
> unlaying of bricks
> unspilling of paint -- back into the bucket
> a vehicle backing out of a wrong turn
> untying of a knot
> Anyone else have ideas about this?
> Paul
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> fluid-work at

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