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Change the quill icon to a pencil icon for Compose a new message

Change the quill icon to a pencil icon for Compose a new message

This idea has been developed and deployed to Canvas

In the Messages section of Canvas, the way to compose a new message is to click on the icon of a quill. Some students don't even know what a quill is. And several of my students though the quill icon was a picture of a leaf.

A pencil is a standard icon on the web for "edit." Let's make the button easy to find by changing the quill to a pencil. (See attached files for examples.)

Comments from Instructure

For more information, please read through the .


Yeah turn that leaf into a pencil resting on paper and maybe make it a little bigger?  I find the compose box a little hard to see as well.  Not an intuitive design.

Community Member

"In the Messages section of Canvas, the way to compose a new message is to click on the icon of a quill. Some students don't even know what a quill is. And several of my students though the quill icon was a picture of a leaf.   A pencil is a standard icon on the web for "edit." Let's make the button easy to find by changing the quill to a pencil."

@ Erich Holtmann

Because heaven help us all if a kid encountered the word quill before they get to college. Or if a professor were to say "click on the quill to respond."

Certainly air would no longer be breathable if you told them to look up the word quill.

Of course if the complaint is that the quill is a poorly drawn icon... legit complaint.



There is an entire generation that dont know what the save icon seen in most software is based on because they have no experience of it. If i said click on the 3 1/2 inch disk they equally would have no clue.

 As has been pointed out the quill as presented in the icon is mostly an invention of the media and not historically based so this also implies it is culturally based and may be equally unrecognizable outside a european context.

I dont think the argument is as unreasonable as it sounds

Community Member

Right Brett, because the Chinese and Japanese and Cambodian and Korean,

and Russian, and Indian, and Mesopotamian, and Egyptian and Sub Saharan

African people all went from finger pointing directly to ball-point

pens. Get over it, a quill or brush was nearly as universal writing

implements as ball points are now; and kids still paint with watercolors.

As to the floppy meaning save, well there were other devices before the

3.5 floppy but everyone who takes a basic computer course knows that

little icon means save, and if you didn't take a course you learn it on

the first day working with your computer or just learn the keyboard

shortcut Ctrl+S.

This is a useless consumption of resources. Surely there is a better use

of the intellectual talents here, like maybe review of standardized tests?

I encountered errors on the college placement sample tests. Errors from

correct answers marked incorrect to no correct answer provided in the

multiple choices. In one case a test that a college had been using as a

sample test for 8 years without review or revision contained 3 errors,

any student that scored higher than 70, actually scored 60 or lower.  I

even encountered a test which gave 10 questions with 10

points per question; A score of 75 necessary to be deemed college ready.

That test had two questions that came back to me as "Your answer of :C:

is incorrect. The correct answer was "C." I did get one question wrong

but knew it when I hit 'next.' It scored me a 67%, then congratulated me

on "scoring 80% or better," referring to my performance being "among the

the top 10% of all test takers." We place students based on these tests!

Community Member

No, Michael, quills were not universal in the development of writing worldwide.  And, no, this is not a "useless consumption of resources" if it is important to the success of our students - which it is.  Now, if you have another problem with Canvas unrelated to this discussion, please feel free to start your own discussion about it.  Disparaging this discussion, however, is truly a "useless consumption of resources".

Community Member

255353_Canvas Leaf.PNGFrom Car Navigation System

I noticed this last night while out on the town.  Comparison of Canvas "leaf" with the Eco "leaf" from my car's navigation system.  Pretty similar!

Community Member

What now Dr. Smith,

Did I barbecue your sacred cow?

The QUILL is perfectly fine as a button.

It is demeaning to suggest that a quill it is above the cognitive

ability of any college level student.

I will grant a learning curve with the software, and I support making

the quill more quill-like.

The use of the quill in and of itself is not unreasonable.

The quill is a well recognized icon.

The quill in canvas however looks like a leaf.

Here, are a hundred or so quill icons on which to base the new canvas

icon, please avoid the leaf-like versions:


Its also worth noting that Canvas has a very broad user base extending from kto12 right through to postgraduate and everything in between.  College students may be fine but younger school  students also need consideration

Community Team
Community Team

Deactivated user‌

You've been in our community for nearly a month now, so I know that you are aware that this is a community of users that are not only passionate about education, software, and the users they serve locally, but also about helping and serving this global community.   We love passion, but we do not tolerate disrespect.   Please take a look at our  Community guidelines, specifically Be Cool. 

Regarding this idea in general, there is an official response from us at the top of the idea.  We know the current icon is not ideal and we're seeking the best solution.  Continuing to criticize for the sake of confrontation does not help any of us move forward. 

Community Member

You are correct, Michael, that it would be demeaning to suggest that the quill icon is below a college student's cognitive abilities.  I'm glad that none of us have made such a suggestion, as we should work together to improve the learning experience for all students out of our interest in their academic success.  As such, I am glad that we have successfully drawn this issue to Canvas's attention, both for college students and for all other students that use Canvas, as Brett has reminded us.  With that, I take my leave of this discussion.

Community Member

Valid point I was unaware of.

Great time to teach kids (K-12 about the history of writing and

calligraphy as an art.

Bet I could get you some nice feathers to teach the kids how to cut a

quill with a pen knife!

Community Member

Thank you for the kindly reminder, I will simply assume you sent the

same message to the good Dr. Smith.

I have nothing but respect for the venue.

There is no ill intent in voicing my honest observations and opinions,

any scholar should welcome a defensible alternate position.

I know I do.

Community Member

As was pointed out to me today, Dr. Smith, Canvas operates for K-12 and

beyond. I was unaware of that. For me Canvas was college only.

Hopefully the quantity as well as the content of this topic will reach

the eyes of "He who must be obeyed" and the icon will change magically

overnight, it is simply the replacement of a GIF file of the same

dimensions and POOF the issue is gone.


Community Team
Community Team

Deactivated user‌

Again, I will refer you to the message at the top of this idea.

Thank you to everyone that has commented and voted. We know this seems like a simple fix, and technically it is. The more difficult part of this conversation is agreement in design. Even this thread demonstrates how difficult that can be. We want you to know that we have brought this thread to the attention of our designers responsible for the icon set. We'll post here when we know more.

Explorer II

We had instructors also ask why it was a leaf.  

Surveyor II

I'm not dead...yet

Not sure I like the "yet".

But yes, change to a pencil for compose/edit, a red pencil for edit or red strikethrough text. Or just "edit" since that is what students see in the pull down in Discussions.

Community Member

 Heh heh heh

  Because it is a leaf.

 I believe it is a birch leaf.

Community Member

Personally, I wish this icon would be replaced by a "plus" [:smileyplus:] to match Canvas' style for signifying options that let you create. I also like the simplicity of the shape of the "plus" and its universal recognizability.
Pretty soon, we will have a generation of k-12 students who need to be taught what the pencil is (yes, I realize I'm being a bit hyperbolic).

Community Member

I'd like to second  @kweiler  that the icon/button needs to be much bigger, too. Perhaps it should even be a different color to make certain no one misses it. Based on my experience, the industry standard is to make the "Compose message" or "New email" action easiest to locate. This is not the case with Canvas!

Community Member

Just did a training webinar yesterday and had to explain it was a's a leaf and it's not intuitive.  I think the suggestion to have a consultant in HCI is a good one.  Right now, Canvas uses the gear, three dots, and the pencil to signal users - consistency there would also lend to greater ease of use.