Designing Effective Icons

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Icons are miniature graphics that contribute to user-friendly navigation of webpages or programs for computer users. They depict the functionalities on a page with an interesting look, eliminating the need for reading through the accompanying text. Here are a few dos and don'ts of effective icon design.

Icons should be designed with the audience, perspective, and size and style of the page on which they will be positioned in mind. Effective icons tell users about the functions of their programs or operations without forcing them to look for more information elsewhere. They are sufficiently suggestive and are more easily understood by users than script.

Here are a few tips on designing useful icons that effectively serve their purpose on a page:
  • Icons are just one of the many graphic elements on a page, and thus, they should be in sync with other elements to create a sleek overall effect. Meanwhile, it is essential that icons stand out from each other to prevent confusion or ambiguity in the minds of users.



  • Icon design greatly depends on the audience that is going to use the application or webpage and their culture. Icons that will be used by a small audience take into account different considerations than icons that will be used internationally.

  • Icons should be kept simple. An icon should not be crowded with too many items or overly illustrated. An icon with too many elements is difficult to recollect, become familiar with, and understand, especially if it is small.

  • It is important to follow the treatment you decide to give to your icon throughout the designing process. If you choose a light source from one particular direction, the same lighting should be used consistently for the entire set of icons on the page. Care should be taken to ensure that the light source, reflections, or shadows used while designing the icons are in alignment with those of the page on which the icons will be placed.

  • Similarly, if you are looking at a set of icons on a page, all of them should be viewed from the same perspective or at the same visual angle to maintain consistency in your icon design.

  • Before designing an icon, keep in mind the size of the icon that will ultimately be used. Each icon needs to be optimized for its final size.
There are a few common mistakes to avoid while designing an icon:
  • Icons that suggest names or use text in their designs make it difficult for the user to relate them to metaphors. Icons are substitutes for text, and icons that are difficult to interpret miserably fail to achieve their purpose.

  • Icon designers should not design icons simply based on images they like. While icons should be visually appealing, their basic purpose is not to look pretty but to convey an idea. Images that users cannot connect with tend to confuse them.

  • Do not include irrelevant information in your icons. Using as few visual elements as possible will make your icon crisp and clear to the user.
Conclusion

Icons are extensively used to indicate functions in programs and systems. While most are quite small, a lot of consideration goes into designing an effective icon that fulfills its purpose. An important thought to keep in mind before designing an icon is that the best icon is one that is simple and easily understood by the user.
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