I'm designing a no-data USB cable : How should the end be marked?

  • I'm specifying a dedicated USB cable for a product, but it won't be a full cable, it will be missing the center conductors. In other words, it is functionally equivalent to a "charge only" USB cable.

    What graphic treatment might work, so consumers don't later confuse this with a full USB cable capable of transmitting data?

    Here's a picture of the cable prototype all torn apart, and the standard USB logo: Charge Only Cable Logo Graphic Symbol

    I've checked with the USB implementors forum, and there's no dedicated logo for this case.

    Update in response to all the comments: I'm a consulting engineer, and don't set the project specifications. Here my client wanted the most flexible possible flat cable. My client's needs come first.

    The power wires needed to be at least 22 gauge given 2 amp draw over this 2 meter cable (note the unjacketed copper bundles with nylon threads to make up the missing strength). Adding the data wires would add stiffness with no immediate increase in functionality for my client's product needs.

    The described cable is meant to power a given product. It's irrelevant what the device does or does not do with data lines.

    The UX question on the table is how to mark such cables to lower user frustration later, when the cable gets stuffed in a drawer after the product itself is obsolete.

    What harm would it do if you just used a standard USB cable with the data bit? I think you need to understand what the U in the acronym USB actually stands for - Universal.

    @SteveD charging from an untrusted computer for example.

    There are 2 ends to a cable. There is USB on one end - what's on the other end is entirely up to your intended use - just don't change the USB side but only connect up the bits you need to the other side?

    Don't USB devices use the data link to test for quick charge? IIRC you need to play with a resistor to 'fool' the device into using quick charge if you cut the data links. Also, this product isn't very unique anymore, so I don't know how you're planning to get this on the market at a competitive price

    What's on the other end of the cable? Your own custom connector or something common like USB-C or similar?

    Thank you for worrying about this. Charge-only USB cables *without* any special marking are a constant annoyance.

    Why not just spec your product to use a standard, off-the-shelf power-only cable? Why do you have to design the same thing over again?

    @GroundZero, if you bridge the data leads on the device side, and leave them open on the host side, you'll get "AC charging" in most cases.

    @GroundZero it's complicated (electronics.se) but you can rely on being able to charge slowly with no data pins except on some old laptops

    just a curiosity, not an answer to your question: could you feasibly fit a small switch on the side of the plug to turn the data line on and off? honestly, i'd buy that.

    Why design a non-compliant USB cable, if you could design a usb "condom" http://syncstop.com/

    I feel like there is way to much discussion on the product itself and not the UX question that was asked. This isn't startups.stackexchange we can give advice on how to improve experience without trying to discredit OP's business/product.

    It's far from universal, but several "power-only" USB cables are red. That is my first thought when I see them now.

    @DasBeasto But in this case the way to improve the experience is to not do what the asker wants to do. (Since this is their own product why can't they use a normal USB cable and leave the data lines disconnected *inside their product*)

    I have a power-only USB cable at home and I hate the thing. Once in a while someone takes it, tries to use it for data, gets frustrated, restarts the device, reboots computer... only to realize it's the cable. Terrible UX. Don't do it.

    @marcvangend: You might want to label that cable with a piece of tape, something like this, and write e.g. "POWER ONLY" or "NO DATA" on the label. Probably not the best solution for the OP, but should work well enough as a DIY fix.

    There is another consideration: If you make the "official" cable have no data, will the device end have all pins connected? If yes, what happens if I plug a cable *with* a data bus? Will your device explode? Will it explode the other end? Will it work OK? It's much easier to use standard hardware and not bother about it. *"explode" used figuratively.

    I saw cables like this with an arrow instead of the USB marking. Will try yo grab a picture and post as answer.

    @DasBeasto agreed. Such behavior has unfortunately dominated the answers for this question.

    @WoodrowBarlow I wanted to mention the idea but then considered what happens if you flipped it in the middle of transferring a file, or worse, updating firmware, etc.

    @TernaryTopiary the exact same thing as if you unplugged the device in the middle of doing something. it's functionally the same usability concern.

    Incidntally, I recently bought a USB-rechargeable bike light.The cable turns out to be capable of carrying data, as I found out when I used it to charge my phone.

    Instead of leaving out the data line connectors, which will prevent detection of a fast-charging capable device, how about adding a capacitor between them? All fast-charging systems I am aware of use a constant voltage on the data lines, which a capacitor would not interfere with, but any attempt at signalling over the lines would be disrupted electrically if there was enough capacitance between them.

    Rather than having yet another useless cable around at the end of the day I'd prefer to see a `charge` switch like the `read only` on SD cards ...

    OP here: adding the additional two wires adds stiffness to the cable. My client wants the most flexible cable possible. As a consulting engineer, I must attempt to implement my client's wishes.

  • Unfortunately such cable is not compliant with USB specification, as even in usb power delivery the data lines are used to negotiate power.

    You should not mark it with USB (or even USB-like) logo at all. Plug's distinctive shape is informative enough to be easily recognizable as in "where does this plug go". I concur with other answers suggesting lightning-shaped logo and red color (if you can have the color). Perhaps even go further - if your cable is designed to safely charge smartphones from untrusted sources, then feature your "data isolator" logo. In other words: highlight what the cable doesn't do (how it's different) instead of what it does.

    //edit: nekomatic's answer made me realize that these days a battery icon conveys "powering" way better than a lighting-shaped one. Even if the power is continuous instead of charging.

    +1 for mentioning USB specification compliance. My mind was on it but I didn't want to leaf through it.

    I'd go so far as to suggest standard USB cable but with a power only adaptor for either end. The cable cannot then be mistaken as a normal USB cable by the user, and the adaptor can both take on-board any of the suggestions here (colour, logos etc) while also not appearing as any other common USB device. (in fact, these already exist. https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71sHpNpDxeL._AC_UL160_SR160,160_.jpg https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-MRuqcjulBVg/VHkAcA8kxVI/AAAAAAAAAMo/UmrpqseZHGg/w426-h240/20141113_141050.jpg)

    @WayneWerner: It's not OK! There are many ways to make the world better: give to charity, recycle, reduce your energy consumption, design USB products according to spec, do volunteer work...

    I read all the specs. Surprising it's fine so long as you can't draw more than 100mA.

    By that standard none of the USB products should carry the logo. Seriously, do you know of a single hub which actually negotiates power according to the spec?

    @DmitryGrigoryev I knew once, but it was so ridiculously expensive I went for a cheap one. Which, surprise, does NOT carry the logo. Anyway, just because other people do shit doesn't mean it's ok to do it.

    @Agent_L The truth is, noone will buy the non-shit product because it will fail to interoperate with the majority of other devices. The real problem is in the spec itself, not in the devices which try to implement its sane subset.

    @DmitryGrigoryev It's actually the shitty products that do fail to interoperate and people just learned to work around their deficiencies. Anyway, my point is that what OP is designing does not constitute "an USB cable" neither in view of USB spec nor in average Joe's understanding.

    Presumably this also means you can't use the term "USB" when placing such a product on an online store, which raises a quite different UX question about how anyone will ever find the thing

    @Agent_L you mention a "data isolator" logo. That's exactly the question on the table: what type of logo would designate and communicate this cable's purpose?

    @ChrisBurt-Brown It can be described as "cable for charging USB devices" or "from USB chargers". He can use 100& legit USB as long as he describes the other components of the charger-cable-phone setup.

    @Bryce I think that deserves another question. There were few suggestions here, including crossed out "01010101". But I suggest even less abstract approach: a crossed out bug (insect). Because regular users don't care how the cable does it, what they care is that it "keeps hackers away" (or viruses).

    @Joshua "it's fine so long as you can't draw more than 100mA." OP is drawing **2000 mA**.

    @endolith My 2c: that may be true, but I think criticizing his choice to flaunt the USB specification is adjacent at best to conversations pertaining to the overall user experience. You can argue that the specification is designed with UX in mind, and maybe that's true. All that said, it's also not whim, he _needs_ to do this from the sound of his comments, so acknowledging it and moving on is prudent IMO.

    @endolith I believe that Joshua merely nitpicked on my statement that such cable is **completely** out of specs. He provided set of circumstances under which such cable can operate within specs, thus proving me technically wrong. He's right, I should be more specific about the cable being out of spec **in this scenario**.

  • You can never beat straight text ("Power Only"); that way, there can be no confusion.

    That said, I actually have such a cable at home which has an icon very similar to this in a raised profile on the connector:

    USB Power Logo from Shutterstock

    It would be nice to look to the creator(s) of the standard USB icon for inspiration, meaning and thus cues for how to adapt it to mean "power only", however one seems to find only many references to Neptune's trident and how the shapes represent "many devices". Example.

    I have also seen anecdotes from the walled garden of information that is Quora claiming that the Circle and Square represent 5V and Ground respectively (the triangle represents data), but I think this is completely unverifiable speculation.

    You may like to consider a hybrid logo between some sort of lightning bolt and the USB logo perhaps, but I think that as there's no clear understanding or agreement on a deeper meaning to the logo, even among members of the public, I'd be careful when changing the design.


    Having thought about it some more, really, the problem is that no matter what you put there, the user isn't likely to pay attention to the subtle (relatively speaking; one cable looks like another and statistically speaking they behave very similarly) marking on the plugs and learn the hard way after several futile minutes of trying to get their device to communicate.

    Depending on the economics of the situation, what you could do instead is have a cable that looked fundamentally different to normal cables (different plug shape, plug color, cable color, cable material, etc) to grab the attention of users, so that they they would be more likely to investigate further to determine the cause of discrepancy.


    Another datapoint: I found such a cable while tidying an office. It was a standard-looking black USB cable with a label tag saying "NO DATA".

    +1 for a different cable to grab the attention of the user

    I also painted a big yellow lightning on my "condom" USB cables, so +1 for that.

    "you can never beat text", well, unless you don't speak the language? Also, a symbol is often more "immediately" graspable. So -1 for that. :)

    The only "power only" cable I ever had was flat. +1 for shape. It worked for me, I was able to identify it in my bag even without looking.

    "the Circle and Square represent 5V and Ground respectively" -- I have always understood it as "devices of odd nature, connected to the same socket", which is (imho) a much more direct interpretation.

    @KlaymenDK I've seen soemthing official agreeing with you,

    Also a bastardised USB logo might fall foul of trademark regs.

    @KlaymenDK Why not both?

    @TernaryTopiary Since the edit, I would agree and suggest that a cable end that was the shape of a lightning bolt would be easily differentiated, by touch alone, from a standard USB. This would be a pretty good product.

    I would not at all use a lightning shaped logo - the "thunderbolt 3" connector uses such a logo, and given that it is the same connector as USB type-c, the OP will run into issues down the line if you ever made a "power-only USB-C cable".

    The USB logo is trademarked, so any hybrid symbol would need to be approved by the USB Implementors Forum.

    I have seen such cables in the wild already; they were colored red.

    @Tom Carpenter A cursory search reveals that Thunderbolt 3.0 has a logo with a lightning bolt with an arrow at the bottom and a flat top. This is a bit different than a lightning bolt which tapers at both ends (as in the picture), although it's a reasonable point to make if OP decides on such a logo.

    @TernaryTopiary because I can't write that small with a Sharpie (and my dad can't read that small...)

  • As others have stated, icons are unlikely to be seen.

    As this question shows, a common way to solve this is to make the cable end visually distinct using colour.

    enter image description here

    In this case, the red end is power only.

    You could combine both ends, using a ⚡ or ⏻ symbol and the colour red. That would probably be useful for people with colour blindness.

    Would also suggest yellow for electricity.

    @TernaryTopiary yellow is frequently associated with 12V in computer power supply standards. Red wires are 5V usually.

    If you can't make it good, make it big. If you can't make it big, make it red.

    @SPavel red cables go faster after all.

    To make it even more obvious that its non-standard you could change the shape of the plastic moulding the metal bit fits into - so that it was triangular rather than rectangular in section. And Red. And had an icon on it for good measure.

    I like this solution, yes USB cables can come in different colours, but if *just* the end were red, that would make me think something is different about it.

    OP Here: while I appreciate the suggestion, the cable in question has strict color, surface texture and branding requirements that preclude changing the color.

  • Leaving aside the question of whether there's a better solution than a custom USB cable, if the 'lightning bolt' symbol is not obvious enough, or is too similar to the Thunderbolt symbol, an alternative could be a 'battery' symbol:

    battery icon (original artwork by me)

    Colouring one end differently, and/or attaching a label with text e.g. POWER ONLY NO DATA as well as any symbol used, could also be helpful cues to differentiate the cable from a standard USB one.

    Good one. You've made me realize that a battery conveys "electric power" way better than a lightning bolt this days.

    @Agent_L especially since Apple's new chargers are called Lightning plugs

    Or the schematic symbol for battery.....

  • It's not the answer you want, but it might be the answer you need...

    Whatever graphical treatment you apply to your product, it will never fully convey the difference between 'charge-only' and 'charge and data'. Users are too busy, too ignorant (not in a bad way) or too indifferent to pick up on the minor change in something that's often barely visible in the first place (think about someone reaching around the back of their PC under their desk to plug one of these in).

    USB already has UX issues 'One does not simply plug in a USB first time', so the very existence of another type of USB cable, one that does one thing less than the standard one, will definitely create more confusion, never less, than at present.

    No doubt there are pressing commercial reasons why you have to have yet another cable that does something fractionally different than the standard cable, but this will not benefit the user experience, only cause confusion.

    • What icon you choose, which, following current conventions would either be a lightning bolt on its own or combined with the standard USB icon, is not going obviate the inevitable confusion of 'why doesn't this USB cable transmit data like all my other ones? Oh, it looks like the icon is a little different...'

    As your cable does less, not more, than the standard, very cheap, popular and versatile version, I would question whether this product needs to exist at all - but it's your call as to whether this is commercially viable business opportunity.

    Hope that helps.

    This product has its uses, let's say you want to charge your phone on your computer without all this iTunes/Autoplay stuff popping up, or charging from an untrusted machine.

    While the proposed solution meets the stated objective, I believe the overall experience would be degraded by increasing the variability of the cables. I rely on USB's to work without thinking about them. A 'trust this computer' prompt is trivial compared to not having access to the right cable due to confusion.

    What if the "trust this computer" prompt is vulnerable? (especially thinking about Android devices here which never get any updates)

    Is that a thing? If I was the kind of person who was concerned about that level of potential risk, I imagine I would do my charging from a plug, rather than trust any USB, no matter what the icon was.

    OP, Is your first line an homage to The Dark Knight?

    @cheersphilip: My iPod is unusable when plugged into my car's USB port because the car replaces its controls with a buggy user interface.

    @supercat that's a great example, but please see my point above about the proposed solution meeting the stated objective, while simultaneously degrading the overall experience of using cables.

    @AndréBorie The asker says they are designing this cable *for a product*, in which case there is no reason they can't just disconnect the data lines inside the product.

  • What about something simple like the text "No data"? Should convey the meaning clearly enough.

    - Of course it has no data, the photos are not in the cable but in my phone! -said Granny

    As mentioned in the comments for my answer, localization concerns exist. Ideally you'd want a good logo _and_ text.

    OP Here: Two concerns: 1) The negative "no" may create concern in the minds of people who had no reason to care. 2) That only works for English. The market for electronics is global.

    I'd prefer "Power Only" or "Power only, Not for data" if space can be found. (But only if the product will never be sold outside the Anglosphere. Otherwise make it red and put a battery symbol on it, as per another answer).

  • Once you've found a bad solution and all the other solutions are worse, it's time to look at the other other solutions.

    A great example for this is Windows 95, which required the user to click on "start" in order to "shut down". The reason was that the designers couldn't find a better place to put the "shut down" button. The simple solution was to look beyond where to place the "shut down" button and instead remove the misleading "start" label from the Windows button.

    A USB cable that isn't USB is bad, no matter how it's labeled. USB cables should be USB cables. Making a broken USB cable instead of a working one doesn't even reduce cost, because USB cables are commodities - a custom cable with a custom label will almost certainly be more expensive. There are better alternatives. To list 3 of them which may or may not work in your specific situation:

    • Kill the data line in the device instead of in the cable.
    • Don't use a USB connector. Hundreds of other power connectors exist, and some of them are even standardized.

    enter image description here

    • If the cable is the product, make it an adapter instead of a cable. If people have a USB adapter with one end USB A male and the other end USB A female, they will be far less likely to use it accidentally, and will be inclined to look at the label. In this case you have much more space than you have on just a connector, so I'd suggest using a descriptive product logo instead of just a descriptive label. The logo would then depend a lot on the product name ("BugKill", "AllPower", "USBCondom", "SaferCharge").

    enter image description here

    You have good points here. I like the last option, specially, but doesn't: "they will be far less likely to use it accidentally, and **will be inclined to look at the label**" bring us to the initial question?

    @Alvaro Ironically, yes. But if indeed the data condom is the product, I'd suggest using a product logo that conveys the meaning, rather than just a label, which is a bit different from the question. Hmm.. I guess I should add this to the answer.

    ISTR there is a Euro directive that USB *will* be used, so that chargers are universally interchangeable between phones and other small rechargeable consumer gadgets. From an environmental perspective, this is a good thing. A barrel connector would not be allowed, except as a replacement cable for a legacy product.

    @nigel222 This is incomplete information. In the case of EU phones, one end USB is sufficient, that's why Apple is allowed to sell phones. If full USB were required a broken USB cable would not satisfy the requirement either. Also, if the cable were meant to be packaged with a phone, producing a more expensive cable that creates a bad user experience and a lot of expensive support calls isn't anything anyone would want to do, so we can safely say this cable is not going to be packaged with a new phone.

    @Peter But aren't Apple obliged to supply an iPhone to USB charger dongle with an iPhone to make it comply, so it can be charged from any USB charger? Also are "phone" chargers that don't provide a USB output still allowed? (I was referring to the USB connector, not to USB data wiring or lack of).

    @nigel222 As far as I'm aware manufacturers are simply expected to come up with a common solution, and there would only be a law with specifics if the manufacturers didn't act. I might be wrong. As far as i'm aware the common solution is that they can be charged from a charger with a female USB 2.0 plug, using a (possibly phone specific) cable. But this seems to be unrelated to this question as no phone vendor should want to deliver a phone with a broken cable that's incapable of fast charging. So I dearly hope the OP's question isn't about a cable that will be packaged with a phone.

  • @TernaryTopiary has a great answer, I wanted to add some thoughts in case they are useful to determine a solution.

    Basically a USB cable could:

    • transfer data from a device to another
    • transfer battery (energy) from a device to another

    In your case the cable is not doing one of the two, so you could try to communicate:

    • "energy transfer ONLY"
    • "No data transfer"

    The "No data transfer" approach tells what the USB cable doesn't do. It assumes the user knows that a common USB can transfer and/or charge. So it is telling "Doesn't transfer data" explicitly but "Transfers energy" implicitly. About the symbol it could be Arrow up & down crossed, "No data transfer" (but I guess you are looking for symbols).

    An alternative is to indicate the options an average user would expect (power and data transfer) and cross out the data one. Something like:

    I would not get this.

    Maybe. Though what you drew is data going into a power pin. The USB connector is (1) power, (2&3) data, (4) ground.

    Better all words "Power only, not for data", but this and the original both completely fail outside the Anglosphere.

  • This would perhaps be one for the tech-savvy but how about labelling it 10101010 as a crossed out series of bits. That could be printed on the cable itself, while better on the plug or a label hanging off the cable like you get on a lot of webcams would be:

    symbol for "no data"

    (the font is hack, and that's 8-bit ASCII for USB)

    @Floris if you've got to display something, might as well make it something relevant. And 3 lines looked better than the 4 that would be taken up by `01100100 01100001 01110100 01100001`.

  • I've came up with two different ideas:

    1. With two sets of Icons, one with "Data Transfer + Power" and other with "No Data Transfer, Power only". (Image 1)
    2. Icon and Text stating "No Data Transfer". (Image 2)

    Image 1Image 2

    That icon doesn't look like "data transfer" to me. My first guess what this icon could mean would be something related to physically turning or moving the USB plug. My second guess would be "[not] hotplug-capable".

    @Philipp it looks more like synchronization to me...

    @Philipp The icon you were talking about represents synchronisation (most common icon for data sync) as beppe9000 said , in layman terms we can call it as data transfer.

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