QUESTION: hazard alert colors on the PC

Subject: QUESTION: hazard alert colors on the PC
From: "Megan E. McMacken" <megan -dot- mcmacken -at- FANUCROBOTICS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 13:05:22 -0400

I am responsible for writing online help and online documentation for a
variety of PC products. These products are used to monitor and control
robots on plant floors. Some of the procedures and tasks the users can
perform have hazard alert messages associated with them because of the
danger to personnel or equipment. Previously, these hazard alert messages
only appeared in black and white in paper documentation, but with the new PC
products we've been forced to come up with standards for handling the alerts
in a PC environment.

This is the proposed method for handling these messages on a PC:

1. Use the triangle with an exclamation point (the yellow triangle that
Microsoft uses as a "heads up" type of alert) as the icon regardless of the
hazard's severity.
2. Use a yellow triangle to identify Cautions--risk of damage to equipment.
3. Use a red triangle to identify Warnings--risk of injury to personnel.
4. Use no icon for Notes.

These are my concerns:
1. Microsoft's use of the yellow triangle usually has nothing to do with
true physical danger to people or equipment. It is often associated with "Do
you want to save your document before exiting?" types of questions. If we
use the same icon in the same PC environment but it has a completely
different conotation, will the users get confused about how severe and
note-worthy the hazard alert message is?
NOTE: These hazard alerts are built into the content. They do not appear
as dialog boxes like Microsoft's do. Thus, they are always on the screen as
the user scrolls through the content and do not need to be dismissed.

2. When I did a literature review on Product Liability, I found a lot of
information that said that yellow means Caution, orange means Warning, and
red means Danger. One of the managers said that color transcends language
and that an international audience will understand that yellow means Caution
and red means Warning.

What icon standards and color standards are the rest of you using with your
PC-based products in areas that involve more than just software-related
"hazards"? In other words, how do you handle the hazard alert messages when
the user can use the software to do something that is potentially harmful or

If I get enough responses and there is enough interest, I'll post a summary
to the list.


Megan E. McMacken
megan -dot- mcmacken -at- fanucrobotics -dot- com

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