The Orange Really Does Matter
Matt Brett’s new feed icon is internationalized, non-technology specific and unique enough to be used on any website in the world, with one caveat: it still needs to be orange.
It’s nice to see RSS/Atom/XML/syndication technology finally being roped under the common term “feeds.” Feed readers have come a long way in just a few years, and it’s no longer critical to not only maintain different versions of RSS and Atom, but clearly indicate which link on your site goes to which version.
Having a list of available feed versions was always confusing to visitors and webmasters—even the more technology adept ones—because for a time certain readers could only distill one flavor (like RSS 0.92) while superior formats offered more features and flexibility (like Atom). Visitors should not have to worry about what kind of syndication feed they are getting, just that they click the link and it works.
As a content producer, I have had a long love/hate relationship with RSS. In the beginning, I hand-rolled my own. When I moved to Movable Type, the magic was done for me. When I moved to Textpattern, I even had the option of RSS over Atom, but I stuck with RSS 0.92 since that is what graphicPUSH has been outputting since December 2003. It’s a technology I have never wanted to deal with or really cared about—like my visitors, I just wanted it to work.
From a usability perspective, content syndication got off to a bad start. The original orange “XML” icon was not even technically correct, and the subsequent variations never really nailed the concept.
What the world needed was a global, unique, non-technology specific image that was simple and readily available. Matt Brett fulfilled all of these requirements with his new feed icon. The mark is clean and memorable, and survives well at small sizes.
Matt’s use of the orange as the default color was the right design choice, but I am not convinced supplying color variations is the correct thing to do since it re-introduces one problem the whole syndication usablity mess had in the first place—consistency. The site states the following:
We believe that as a symbol, the feed icon is recognizable enough that it doesn’t need to be restricted to one colour.
I disagree. Orange is part of the “brand” of content subscription. This new icon has almost zero market penetration, so it is arrogant to assume the graphic immediately screams “content subscription!” to every visitor. Imagine a user comfortable with the old school XML icon and its meaning coming across a square, electric blue symbol of a radio wave. Does not seem intuitive to me. Even the Micosoft development team agrees—their announcement of the IE7 feed icon was titled “It’s Still Orange.”
People know, love and trust the orange. It’s used by Firefox, Safari, Opera and IE7, along with a host of feed readers. Why deviate? The color is a critical tie toward merging all the syndication technologies under one common logo.