Imagine a digital world without icons or visual cues for user action or one with confusing and inconsistent icon designs.

You would get a disappointing user experience that offers low or no commercial value to your business. This is why proper design and implementation of icons are so critical.

An icon is a sign or a symbol that visually represents a purpose when placed in a meaningful environment. The way it is perceived or interpreted has to align with its functional objective. Icons are meant to be simple and recognized immediately and effortlessly.

Many designers lose focus on keeping icons metaphoric and minimal, leaving little to no room for clarity and consistency.

This is highly crucial in enterprise design, a realm in which Radiant Digital specializes. The applications we design, and the iconography we use must remain consistent throughout each project.

Some compelling reasons to implement iconography principles for effective icon design include:

  • Icons effectively communicate information in the blink of an eye.
  • One icon can replace a hundred words or instructions.
  • When you create a new symbol for an idea, it leads to viewer memorialization.
  • An icon can shape people’s behavior based on inference.
  • Icons can be flexible when it comes to representing an idea.

The key questions UX designers need to answer to create compelling icons are:

  1. What action will users take using the icon?
  2. Where do you want someone to take that action? (Home Page, a user form, etc.)
  3. How is an icon going to set off this whole reaction?

Iconography principles apply primarily to these four basic icon types:

  • Similar icons depict simple actions and concepts that are easily understood by non-technical users, like forwarding or backward navigation on a page.
  • Example icons– These icons are associated with an action, object, or concept to exemplify its usage, such as an envelope representing a message.
  • Symbolic icons include abstract images symbolic of an action, object, or concept, such as a locked padlock representing a secure page.
  • Arbitrary icons represent non-conventional ideas or actions that only repeated exposure or a technical understanding could help understand. The three-dot options menu icon is an example.

Here are seven iconography principles that will influence how icons should best represent features, functionality, or content:

1. Establish the Tone of Your Icon

Depending on how you want your icon to appeal to your audience and viewers, you need to set its tone into casual, formal, or a perfect blend of both. It would be best if you allowed the user to interpret the icon but in the right direction.

When you put an icon in an environment, it will merge with other elements to stay meaningful. For example, an icon for a user profile combines with other profile information elements to reflect its real intent. The tonality of icons facilitates quicker reading and recognition while promoting higher user engagement and universal appeal.

2. Say No to Finer Detailing

Effective icons should be distinguishable at any distance, size, or screen viewport. One way to ensure this is to use fundamental geometrical shapes to construct the icons. Though many operating systems support scalable icons these days, a detailed realism level could supersede its ability to be immediately recognized effectively.

It can even baffle the user as to what the icon represents. Ensuring that overly illustrating an icon does not lose its symbolic qualities and lower recognition, especially at smaller sizes.

Designers have to be careful not to lose iconic impact while adding interest and complimenting their designs.

3. Start with Lines, Paths, and Grids

Uniformity is key to any icon design. Designers must initially implement lines, arrows, and visual pathways to guide a viewer’s eyes and mind in a specific, meaningful, and intentional direction to fulfill the business objective of using that particular icon.

While drawing some initial ideas for your iconography on pen and paper is a great start, designing your icons on blank paper does not achieve the above goal. Grids help achieve the desired levels of shared and consistent icon styles. They act as guidelines to ensure all the icons have the same dimensional construct and use equal line spacing.

Grids also help establish aesthetic unity within a single icon and across an icon set. Grids help create pixel-snapped icons that are optimized for their size.

4. Define an Objective Icon Style

Many top brands like Apple have a distinct and intuitive icon style that resonates with their brand and tells users exactly what it does. This is because they implement objective icon styles that are universally recognized with a holistic approach.

Whether an icon is meant for desktop applications or mobile apps, the graphic elements need to work together harmoniously. Irrespective of your design approach, begin by examining your UI elements and find a reusable pattern for direction. If a style guide has been created for your project, make sure to consult it and employ the standards that have been set. The key is sticking to the basics and using the brand feel to guide you.

5. Using a Limited Perspective

To retain your icon sets’ uniformity representing a unified whole, using a single or limited perspective is paramount. If you want icons to be looked at from straight ahead or at a specific angle, then make sure to implement the same orientation and perspective across your design ecosystem.

Consistency is key, which can be established only through an established perspective. However, depending on where the icons are located, perspectives can be flexibly implemented. For example, a toolbar icon needs a flatter perspective than an application icon. This can be achieved by adjusting or changing the icon imagery.

6. Casting Elevating Elements Consistently

Making icons realistic is essential to increase their impact for specific applications, even if they don’t have to depict an entire process. The realism you implement in designing icons needs to function coherently as a unified system. Ensuring that enhancements like lighting, shading, gradients, and shadows meet design integrity is vital to symbolize your craft’s professionalism.

Using lines, colors, textures, values, forms, and space to carry or direct the viewer’s eye from one part of the design to the other can be achieved with movement.

Also, adding direction to icons can remove ambiguity and add semantic value. For example, a Wi-Fi icon is depicted as an inverse cone with a radiating signal from the smallest to the broadest line or arc. Designing lines or arcs of the same size/length can change how users interpret the icon.

7. Strategic Placement

Placing or positioning your icons strategically in an environment is key to getting them noticed. Emphasis can be made by placing objects, size, complexity, and color more dominantly in a picture by showing more impact or being heavier in volume while maintaining the balance with other subordinate elements.

Placing an icon at the wrong location or different website pages’ locations is misleading and defeats the purpose. Putting a shopping cart at the bottom left corner instead of the top right corner of a web page can increase customer churn on E-commerce websites.

Here is a list of six “Do’s and Don’ts” that will help designers establish consistency and brevity through the use of icons for your company:

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Radiant Digital has been instrumental in designing functional and appealing icons for growing businesses over the years.

Talk to us about making your UX designs iconic by effectively implementing icons.