Above this sentence sits a set of familiar looking web-browser icons. Familiar, and yet also very similar.

All four icons are based on a compass motif. A red-tipped needle points north-east and south-west, presumably in the direction of some l33t web 1.0 content.

Each icon sports several shades of blue (the unofficial colour of the internet thanks to hyperlinks and Internet Explorer), and all, save one, incorporate a map of some kind (because browsing the web is like navigating the world, only with less roundabouts).

You might be forgiven for thinking all four icons are for the same app. But they’re not.

The second and third are the current and former icons for Apple’s Safari web-browser.

The other two (first and fourth) are the current and previous iteration of the streamlined Ubuntu web-browser app that ships on Ubuntu phone, tablet and desktop.

‘Web Browser icon is not distinctive to the Ubuntu brand’

One Ubuntu member, Alan Bell, thinks that the similarities between the Apple Safari icon and the Ubuntu browser icon are too pronounced. Ubuntu, he argues, should design a new icon that better reflects its identity, rather than looking “weakly differentiated” from that of a platform competitor.

A fair point?

Perhaps, but there’s also another reason the Canonical design team may wish to go back to the drawing board…

Deserving of an individual identity?

icons for five popular web browsers

Believe it or not but Apple own the trademark on ‘drawing or design which also includes word(s)/ letter(s)/ number(s) ‘N E S W” and that is used to denote “…browser software sold as a feature of computers and handheld mobile digital electronic devices…”.

Or, to be wonderfully broad at the expense of precision, Apple owns a trademark on web-browser icons that look like Safari’s.

‘Apple owns a trademark on web-browser icons that look like Safari’s’

Ubuntu is not, on the face of it, in any conflict here. The recently-redesigned Ubuntu Browser icon dropped the coordinate letters ‘N E S W’, and Apple’s trademark stipulates their use. They also switched the red-tipped needle for an Ubuntu orange one. Subtle, but important.

I think that Alan’s broader point deserves some consideration, if only as an exercise in creativity. It’s very, very hard to imagine a web-browser icon that doesn’t riff off of well-entrenched design metaphors and the like, e.g., globes, navigation, blue) — just ask Qupzilla how difficult it can be!

And yet it can be done. Edge, Google Chrome, Vivaldi show that it is possible to eschew expectations and be distinctive.

Ubuntu’s converged browser-app is maturing nicely. It’s getting better with every release. In fact, it’s fast becoming one of the stand-out app’s on the platform.

And maybe, just maybe, this burgeoning independent identity deserves an individual face to present itself, rather than cos-playing as someone else.

Do you think Ubuntu should change its icon?

Poll apple design safari