The Automobile Fuel Gauge – a ‘failed’ pictogram

Nice post over on Humans in Design on the semi-universal icon that tells you what side of the car to fill gasoline. It’s a little triangle that can go on either side of the icon, and the gas tank opens on that side of the car.

The post is called Lessons from a Failed Pictogram, and it covers the more common icon used on dashboards that is simply a picture of an old-timey gas pump with no triangle. This icon is simply an indicator that the gauge is for fuel – it doesn’t help the user know how to drive up to the pump.

The post addresses the myths that grew up about the fuel pump icon – that the pump handle indicated obtusely that the tank was on the opposing side. Of course, this would be a terrible indicator, but the take home message was that if users come up with imaginary meanings for a pictogram, designers should take notice. The users are begging for that message. From the post:

If a myth exists it’s often a search for meaning that can be used to identify a design problem, which is the first step to a solution.

Indeed, most of the pictures I found in an image search were just the pump with no indicator about the fuel tank. The one below stood out since it uses TWO icons.

On a personal note, I was almost 30 before anyone told me about the fuel indicator arrow.


Photo credit gmanviz @ Flickr

Photo credit Strupy @ Flickr