Should You Be Bothered About Designing an Icon?

Should You Be Bothered About Designing an Icon?

There are some amazing free and paid for icon sets out there that designers have created for their colleague’s benefit. On some occasions, we get to designing icons for our clients within a project. This is great, as I get to think about their brand and how to incorporate that into something unique for them. There are numerous types of icon sets out there; line icons, block icons, detailed, flat, you name it and there will probably be a style like it. It all depends on what is wanted and what fits within the client’s brand. If this is something that we can fit into the designing process for the clients we do, and this is where the challenge comes in.Icon Designing

The misconception is that you can have an icon on a site, what does it matter, it’s just there as a small feature of a page. This is wrong. There are so many things to consider. You need to allow the set to fit with the overall brand and look and feel of the company you are working for. You would not use a cartoon style set for a corporate client, the two would not go together. However, if they were a more fun start-up or had an agency vibe then this route could have potential. You have to pick and choose the right fit as you will have done for the rest of the design.

People have been using symbols, pictograms, etc for thousands of years. Some to tell stories and some to simply communicate the meaning of ownership of something. Using an image is a far easier way for the brain to take in and understand what something is. I think we are programmed to understand things from a visual sense way before any other. You can even see it with babies and toddlers; unless you have a genius child they will recognize the pictures and bright colors of a storybook way before they will be able to understand the written words or what you are saying. The more modern icons such as your play icons, download docs, forward, reply, etc would have no meaning whatsoever decades ago as the technology simply didn’t exist to the extent it does now. T-shirts are even available now with an icon set printed on them for people who go traveling so that the language barrier isn’t such an issue. Just point to the icon on the t-shirt and it is a much easier starting point than trying to look up the word for restaurants or doctors.

A great example of icons that are well designing and recognizable are those within airports. If you don’t speak the language how are you supposed to know what is going on? Just look up and they are everywhere in an airport. They have all been designing with visual cues in mind. The same can be said with icons within the Olympic games. Once you have your area you can start creating. I have noticed throughout the websites I have created that I have a preference for line icons, there is something about the lines that make something simple look detailed whilst still keeping a simplistic look. Choosing to use set lines, curves, etc will also help the aesthetics be in keeping within the icon set. For these sets, I chose to use two line weights to add a little detail as seen below.

Once you have the outline you can then start adding the details. For example with the elf and Santa for the Christmas icon set I created the shapes before adding the eyes and the hat details. You can also see that the Penguins hat, Santa’s hat, and Mrs. Clause’s hat are all the same curve and shape. This enables the viewer to easily recognize that these are part of the same set. You can have as detailed an icon as you want, but I have found simplicity is key. That is not to say that detailed icons don’t look good, they look great, but you have to think about the size that these icons are being displayed within a site and if that is only 32px by 32px or smaller, there really isn’t much room for great detail.

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