Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

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.

commentary + criticism

patrick h. lauke

wrote the following on Monday December 26, 2005

“This new icon has almost zero market penetration, so it is arrogant to assume the graphic immediately screams “content subscription!” to every visitor.”

but the point is that once not just Firefox, but also IE (and hopefully soon all other browsers) start to prominently show the (granted, orange) icon in the address bar, it WILL have market penetration.

the argument seems flimsy at best. are we really saying that our users are so dumb that they won’t recognise the symbol if it’s presented in a different colour? this is almost on par with a recent, long conversation i was having on a standards mailing list about designers not styling form inputs because that might confuse users…

Lowell Wood

wrote the following on Wednesday December 28, 2005

I agree completely. The color is extremely important. The icon is not very well known, and it will be alot harder to recognize to people that dont know what it is if it keeps changing color.

Plus not many icons are orange and that would be one way people could remember it


wrote the following on Wednesday December 28, 2005

I don’t think users are dumb, I just think that a fledgling technology needs a strong, consistent mark that resonates with not only RSS-aware users, but the general internet populace that has no clue what RSS is but wants to learn more.

On this topic, Yahoo just released their whitepaper on RSS, and there are some interesting highlights. Perhaps we’re all wrong: item 6 states the following:

“Only 4% of total RSS end-users actually use the orange XML button, and only 38% of RSS aware users use it. It seems the orange button isn’t dead … it was never alive. Let’s move on and replace it with something more user-friendly.”

Maybe a singular orange icon isn’t the way to go. Yahoo suggests we become even more explicit with a “subscribe” button, along with supporting text on how users can use RSS feeds. This is not something I wholly disagree with; on one major site where I developed an XML feed for press releases, I wrote a supporting page explaining what as RSS feed is and how visitors can use it.

I think this is something we’re still figuring out. Clearly, the old school “XML” button isn’t enough, and maybe Matt Brett’s replacement icon isn’t enough either.


wrote the following on Thursday December 29, 2005

I’ve added this icon to the bottom of my page. I consented on the color; the symbol is there, but only orange on the rollover. Maybe this is the right thing to do, maybe not. Time will tell, and I’ll adjust as necessary.


wrote the following on Thursday October 21, 2010

This is an old article but nice to revisit, because the orange RSS icon has really taken off now!