Symbolism can adhere to the principle that “good design is environmentally friendly.” Even pixels can be recycled to minimize the “visual pollution” throughout their interactive lifecycle. This becomes more apparent when design is simplified and refined, like the Share icon.
But how? By looking at the principles of cognitive psychology and pattern recognition. The same principles that allow us to read without actually reading.
The meaning of the Share icon can be manipulated by recycling the pattern we already know. Rotate the arrow 180 degrees into the box and a download icon emerges. Rotate this new icon 180 degrees and a generic upload icon appears. Rotate either new icon 90 degrees and a left-to-right or right-to-left link icon is created.
Maybe this is revolutionary, maybe it’s not. Next time you need an icon consider recycling one your user is already cognitively invested in. There’s a reason why we stopped at 26 letters and 10 numbers. ∎