6 Core Characteristics of Superb Icon Design

Creative design work (or any design work for that matter) is always a struggle. Icons are no exception to the rule, and can give grief to the most professional of designers. To help you with your icon woes, I’ve put together a few core characteristics of superb icons that I’ve encountered and experienced in my time. So, without further ado, here are some characteristics of superb icon design.

[m2leep]

Simplicity

Simplicity is an important part of any design work. This is doubly true for icon design, because you’re given such little space to work in. So, a great way to create a workable, effective icon is to stick with the golden rule of simplicity. Keep it simple, clean, and effective. Evaluate every piece and decide whether it really needs to be there. Would the icon be stronger without it? You’d be surprised how often this happens to be true.

Simplicity is also extremely important for an icon’s ability to match in with other designs. Icons are often featured with other icons, designs, shapes, colors, etc. This means that they need the ability to blend in, so they don’t stand out like a sore thumb. Not to mention too many icons that aren’t simplistic in nature can really clutter up a perfectly good screen. So, stick to simplicity. This will help add clarity and understanding to your icon.

Clarity

All icons should be understandable in a single glance. As a matter of fact, that is the whole point of icons – to be representative of a product or program. So, aim for clarity in your icon design. If it doesn’t have direct representation of the underlying product, in a quick and understandable fashion, it needs to at least spark some recognition of an idea or concept. Clarity helps recognition, which helps memorability, which helps your icon. So, practice clarity for creative icon designs that packs a punch.

Appropriate

Many great creative icons have fallen flat simply for a lack of appropriateness. And I don’t mean in any kind of morality sense (although that too is obviously important), but rather in the target audience and program. No matter how great the icons are, if they’re not appropriate to the subject matter they just don’t work. Always keep in mind your goal while designing your icon, and objectively monitor your success. Sometimes, it’s necessary to start from scratch from a different angle to accomplish your goal and stay true to the task.

Scaling

This is a common issue in icons, due to their sometime use of vectors and their inability to scale down as low as some icons require. It is extremely important that icons look professional in any shape, size, and setting. No matter how amazing the icon is, if elements of it are fuzzy, or it looks bad in a certain scale, it’s not a superb icon.

Consistency

All icons need to be consistent throughout their use of color, lighting, and reflections.  If this isn’t done properly, so much quality is lost it’s absurd. It is one of the easiest ways to give your icons that slightly off feeling, which can lead to general unhappiness, both for the designer and client.

This can be surprisingly hard to spot without a trained eye, but as soon as it is fixed everything suddenly looks ten times better. Our subconscious knows if these things aren’t right, and will let our brains know, even if we can’t vocalize why the icon looks so terrible. So, make sure you’ve ironed out the consistency in your icon, or be prepared to have a subpar design work.

Unique

Although it often goes without saying, it bears repeating. Make your icon unique and interesting. While relevance typically your first priority, an interesting and unique icon can be the difference between a workable icon and a superb icon.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. At the end of the day that’s what all design is. Some things work, and some don’t, but you have to be able to follow your instincts and creative senses. Keep your icons simple, clear, appropriate, properly scaled, consistent, and unique and you’re one the right path. Because the majority of all superb icon designs contain these very same core characteristics.

I hope this short list helped you better understand icon design. Are there any key points or further questions you’d like to hear about? Leave a comment below and I’d love to answer!

 

Social Media Icons – Available for free download

Somacro: 27 300DPI Social Media Icons by vervex
Somacro: 27 300DPI Social Media Icons by vervex
Somicro: 27 Social Media Icons by vervex
Somicro: 27 Social Media Icons by vervex
Simplito: A free social icon set
Simplito: A free social icon set
Free Stained and Faded Social Media Icons Vol 2
Free Stained and Faded Social Media Icons Vol 2
Socializic, free detailed social media icons
Socializic, free detailed social media icons
Candy media icons by TIT0
Candy media icons by TIT0
Social Icons for WPZoom by umar123
Social Icons for WPZoom by umar123
Socialize Icon Set
Socialize Icon Set
Buddycons – Vector Social Media Icons
Buddycons – Vector Social Media Icons
Social Bookmarks/Networking Icon Set
Social Bookmarks/Networking Icon Set
IC Minimal Icon Set by design deck
IC Minimal Icon Set by design deck
IC Colour Icon Set by design deck
IC Colour Icon Set by design deck
FREE Google Plus Icons by survivorcz
FREE Google Plus Icons by survivorcz
Large Updated Twitter Icons
Large Updated Twitter Icons
Twitter Speech Bubble Icons (PSD)
Twitter Speech Bubble Icons (PSD)
Twitter & Dribbble Icons (PSD)
Twitter & Dribbble Icons (PSD)
custom share buttons by JanSzpakowski
custom share buttons by JanSzpakowski
Heart v2: Free Social Iconset in Heart Shape
Heart v2: Free Social Iconset in Heart Shape

Google+ Icons – Available for free download

Google+ Icons
Google+ Icons
Google+ by Alex Patrascu
Google+ by Alex Patrascu
Google Plus (+) Icon Set PNG (dpp)
Google Plus (+) Icon Set PNG (dpp)
Google Plus(+) Circular Icon Set (PSD + PNG) | Taiyab Raja
Google Plus(+) Circular Icon Set (PSD + PNG) | Taiyab Raja
Google+ Logo by Swissendo
Google+ Logo by Swissendo
+plus+ by 1A-Design
+plus+ by 1A-Design
Google Plus Icons by 1A-Design
Google Plus Icons by 1A-Design
Google plus icons by Iconshock
Google plus icons by Iconshock
Google+ Icon by Aaron Moody
Google+ Icon by Aaron Moody
Google Plus + Icons Free PSD by Jimmybjorkman
Google Plus + Icons Free PSD by Jimmybjorkman
Sleek Google+ Icon (Plus Free Google+ Icon Set Download) | PSDFan
Sleek Google+ Icon (Plus Free Google+ Icon Set Download) | PSDFan
Google Connect! by Will Flagello
Google Connect! by Will Flagello
Google+ Icons by Chrisringeisen
Google+ Icons by Chrisringeisen
Google+ by Gabe Telepak
Google+ by Gabe Telepak
Google Plus by Matthew Martin
Google Plus by Matthew Martin
Google Plus Icons by Matt Sellers
Google Plus Icons by Matt Sellers
Google+ Icon by Sandeep Prabhakaran
Google+ Icon by Sandeep Prabhakaran
Google+ PSD Icons by Corbin Marc Hesse
Google+ PSD Icons by Corbin Marc Hesse
Google+ Icons by Daniel Sandvik
Google+ Icons by Daniel Sandvik
Sexy Round Google Plus Icons PSD
Sexy Round Google Plus Icons PSD
Google Plus(+) Circular Icon Set
Google Plus(+) Circular Icon Set
Free Google Plus Icon | Maze of Minds
Free Google Plus Icon | Maze of Minds
Free Google Plus Icons
Free Google Plus Icons
Google Plus Icon
Google Plus Icon
Google icons
Google icons

General Icons – Available for free download

iConPack - now with psd by 7UR on deviantART
iConPack – now with psd by 7UR on deviantART

 

Web Icon Set - Mobile Icon Set
Web Icon Set – Mobile Icon Set

Web Icon Set - Cute Blogging Icon Set
Web Icon Set – Cute Blogging Icon Set

Web Icon Set - E-Commerce Icon Set
Web Icon Set – E-Commerce Icon Set

Music icon pack
Music icon pack

micrOS icon pack
micrOS icon pack

app-bits : iPhone Toolbar Icon Set : iPhone Toolbar Icon Set
app-bits : iPhone Toolbar Icon Set : iPhone Toolbar Icon Set

3D Cartoon Icons Pack by deleket on deviantART
3D Cartoon Icons Pack by deleket on deviantART

NIXUS Icon Pack: 60 Beautiful Premium Icons (Free) | Tutorial9
NIXUS Icon Pack: 60 Beautiful Premium Icons (Free) | Tutorial9

55 free user icons pixel by pixel icons
55 free user icons pixel by pixel icons

108 Mono Icons: Huge Set of Minimal Icons | Tutorial9
108 Mono Icons: Huge Set of Minimal Icons | Tutorial9

Juicy Fruit icon set. psd included
Juicy Fruit icon set. psd included

Web Icon Set - Application Icon Set
Web Icon Set – Application Icon Set

Exclusive Payment Method Icon Set for our readers - Speckyboy Design Magazine
Exclusive Payment Method Icon Set for our readers – Speckyboy Design Magazine

Freebie: Incredibly Detailed 3D Icon Set | MediaLoot
Freebie: Incredibly Detailed 3D Icon Set | MediaLoot

Free SEO Icons Set (16 Icons, Private Use Only) - Noupe
Free SEO Icons Set (16 Icons, Private Use Only) – Noupe

Women's Day Icons | Cute Little Factory
Women’s Day Icons | Cute Little Factory

Free Apple iPad Icon Set for Your Website Designs
Free Apple iPad Icon Set for Your Website Designs

mac 3D icon set by LeMex on deviantART
mac 3D icon set by LeMex on deviantART

Soda Pop Caps Icons | Cute Little Factory
Soda Pop Caps Icons | Cute Little Factory

 

This post is brought to you by Printrunner, an online printing company that offers custom label printing.

Similar Posts

4 Comments

  1. Really nice post Adam! However, to me simplicity will always be a priority as I prefer staying on a safer side when it comes to designs, even though business is all about taking risks :)
    Even renowned brands prefer simplicity when it comes to icons depicting their brands!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.