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‘Attach’ and ‘Link’ Buttons Should Look More Distinct

Here are paperclips. Photo: Monika Zajac/Getty Images/EyeEm

I imagine you agree just from reading the headline, but I’ll continue.

You know when you’re emailing someone and you want to link to a website, and you highlight the text you want to link, and you hit the “link” button? But then you get the attach-a-file pop-up, because actually you didn’t hit the “link” button, you hit the “attach” button, like you always do except for when you mean to hit the “attach” button, in which case you hit the “link” button?

I HATE THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For those unaware, the attach and link buttons reside directly next to each other, only about two centimeters away, in the draft box of the popular email service Gmail. Here is how they look:

Are you kidding me? It is as if the symbols and their placement were designed on purpose to fool you. “Okay, but does she even understand the symbols and what they … symbolize?” you’re thinking if you’re a man, fiercely imbued with the duty to protect things as they are lest they somehow get worse for you. Yes, I understand the symbols and what they symbolize.

The attach button is a paperclip, a tool used to attach paper to other paper. The link button is a link in a chain. These choices are good in theory: artful, simple, correct. But it just so happens the paperclip looks like a vertical version of the chain’s link. Okay, back to the glyph drawing board. (That’s what they should have said when they were designing the buttons and their placement, but instead they stopped at “okay,” which was a mistake.)

Likewise, I understand why the buttons are grouped together. They perform similar functions: linking to a website is sort of like attaching a link, attaching a file is sort of like linking to a file. Yes? And buttons for the inclusion of outside content should be grouped together, yes?

No. Their cognitive similarity is yet another obvious reason why they need to be separated. This is a quick-thinking button-hitting scenario. It’s not a mind game we’re playing for fun on a road trip. Why are we forced to think through this sticky web of online function? Why are we forced to be so precise when we are just trying to tell our friend, “lol this is you,” with a link to a video of a goth teen failing to land a kick flip in a mall parking lot?

So that’s one thing to do, then, about the buttons. We could place them not directly next to each other. Then we can remember: “attach is closer to the left, link is closer to the right,” or whatever it is.

Another option is, of course, different little glyphs altogether. But what would they look like? I am not a web glyph designer, but I have taken this occasion to draw up a few possibilities:

Here you can see, from left to right: shaking hands, a turtle (his shell his attached to him), my dog (to whom I am attached personally), glue, two paperclips, and the sun (to which we are all attached).

And now for “link”:

And here we have, again left to right: lightbulb, like you just thought of a link in something you were trying to solve; “the missing link”; Zelda; a squiggle that’s all linked up; and the Rosetta Stone.

Of course, I’m not saying we have to use one of my options — I’m just presenting them for the sake of potential expediency. What I am saying is that the “attach” and “link” buttons should look more distinct from each other, or, if not more distinct, they should at least not be placed directly next to each other.

Of course, you agree.

‘Attach’ and ‘Link’ Buttons Should Be Easier to Tell Apart