Have you noticed the proliferation of icons in web and print collateral? (We’re not referring to emoticons). We get many client requests to create icons in their marketing materials. However, icons can often be used for the wrong reasons, and be too literal. Yes, clients like to differentiate themselves from their competition, but being too different can cause confusion and alienate your market. Below are a few tips for creating or choosing effective icons.
Action vs. Illustrative
Clickable or action icons are better understood by users if they resemble universally recognized icons. Don’t fret over using generic ones; they are the most familiar to your audience and that’s a good thing. There shouldn’t be any confusion on what the icon means.
You can get a little more detailed and custom if they are only for illustrative purposes, because they’ll usually be accompanied by explanatory text.
‘Custom’ Means Style, Not Content
When we say a ‘custom’ icon, we mean that its style (color/drawing style) is different from that of generic icons. But the content should still be recognizable. For instance, a ‘trash’ icon can look hand-drawn, even comical, but the trashcan shape itself should be familiar to users. And NOT using a trashcan, but instead a drawing of crumpled paper for instance, will rightly confuse users.
Think Conceptually, Not Literally
Whether choosing pre-made or creating custom icons, it pays not to be too literal. Icons should be very simple, and their minimal look cannot include every illustrative reference for the concept you want to convey. They also need to be able to resize smaller, so think broadly, even generically.
- For products, you should instead use a photo image of the product.
- For services, narrow down the number of icons and think what is most recognizable to users.
Limit the Use of Icons
Keep the number of icons you’re using to just a handful. Any more than that, and they lose meaning and cause clutter, making it easy for users to ignore them completely.