An AI Icon Standard for Apps?

by April 13, 2023

As more existing Web and native applications add AI-powered features, many have made use of the sparkle emoji icon to represent these additions. But how long will this consistency last?

From Google's Bard to Microsoft's Office and beyond, the sparkle emoji and it's derivatives have come to represent generative AI features in apps: "tap this button for AI-powered images, text, and more."

Examples of the sparkle icon for AI features in apps

While it feels like there's an emerging pattern here, should designers hop on the sparkle train when adding the inevitable AI features to the apps they work on?

Perhaps the now defunct Save icon pattern offers a clue. Most apps aligned on a floppy disc representation to allow people to save their work. But not only did floppy discs phase out of existence, so did the need to explicitly save files with the widespread adoption of auto-saving features. R.I.P. save icon.

History of the Save icon

And as AI permeates more apps, how long will its capabilities retain "magical" properties vs. just becoming normal expected bits of functionality? When iterating on the design of, we explored using the sparkle icon to enable people to generate suggested questions.

After realizing how useful suggested questions were for exploring the contents of a site, and thereby getting the most value out of it, we shifted to generating them by default. No explicit user action required. We also changed their visual style and layout to fit more seamlessly in people's gaze path so they wouldn't be missed. Bye-bye sparkle icon.

Comparison of inline AI feature vs stable icon action in Ask LukeW

After all... obvious always wins.