If a picture is worth 1,000 words, is an icon worth 2,000? Because icons specialize in condensing content to simple, clear imagery, they are powerful assets that can streamline copy, increase visual interest, and become an essential piece of branding.
According to Merriam-Webster, iconography is defined as “pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject.” If we look at history, icons have been a part of communication since the beginning of time. Think: caveman drawings or hieroglyphics. These elements provide a way to visually communicate messaging fast and globally, supporting text through simple, easy-to-digest graphics.
Here are six important principles when it comes to building a cohesive icon set:
The purpose of each icon should help the audience efficiently process information. The design itself should be simple to understand and precisely communicate a concept. The idea is to act as a supporting element, not a detailed, comprehensive illustration.
The way icons look and feel should complement established brand visuals. This could vary between line work vs. solid fill, flat vs. shadow, square vs. round corner, organic vs. rigid, and really everything in between.
An icon grid supports consistent styling. It introduces an underlying structure to promote symmetry, clarity, and core guidelines, creating consistent visuals across the set.
Icons should always be in proportion with one another. Their design needs to be simple to enable use in any size (big or small) and format (digital or print). Creating in vector (EPS or SVG) formats will ensure quality resolution with every use.
In many cases, icons will be utilized within a range of touchpoints, and creating color rules will ensure proper consistency. Icons should follow a brand’s established color palette, as well as offer use in knocked-out or all-black forms.
When it comes to building a set of icons, looking at the whole is necessary. Approaching as a group forces consideration of the range of needs or objectives, and sets the stage for easily adding icons in the future.
Like any brand element, it’s paramount that once icon design choices have been defined, it becomes the standard for all icons moving forward. Incorporating smart illustration choices, characteristics, and guidelines across the family of graphics will ensure unity and cohesiveness across the board.
In many instances, brands create and manage a library full of cohesive and compliant icons, enabling access to their teams and promoting visual continuity to all. At the end of the day, the goal is to add value and efficiency to deliver your message while captivating the audience with interesting visuals that allow them to understand what’s being said before anything is ever read.
Aedieno is a boutique creative agency. For smart and cohesive icon set creation and library management, please contact us.