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What are the principles of icon design in UI?

Sheza Naveed

Icons are an object, idea, or action’s visual representation. In a graphical user interface (GUI), icons must convey meaning, brand image, and visual appeal. The figure below shows different types of icons on a phone’s home screen:

Different icons

Principles of icon design

  1. Clarity - an icon’s primary goal is to clearly convey meaning. Successful icons have become universal over time and are recognized across the world. Below are a few examples of clear vs. confusing icons:
Source: uxdesign.cc
  1. Readability - an icon should be easily readable. Blurred or light icons that are difficult to read are bad examples. When multiple shapes are being used in an icon, there should be enough space between them to see clearly. Too many strokes make it hard to read the icon. As shown below, lighter colors make it difficult to read, and Google maps on the right provides an excellent example of being readable on a small scale.
Source: Dedoose and Google maps
  1. Alignment - to ensure alignment within an icon, make sure that the elements are optically aligned with each other.
Source: uxdesign.cc
  1. Brevity - any idea expressed concisely feels efficient. It is important to keep icons, given the limited amount of space available. Moreover, the simpler the icon, the easier it is to convey meaning. As shown below, Instagram’s icons are simple and understandable:
Courtesy: Instagram
  1. Consistency - we should maintain the same stylistic rules for icons from the same icon family. Any icon has a certain visual weight determined by stroke thickness, size, shape, and fill. Keeping these parameters maintains consistency.
Source: uxdesign.cc
Consistent icon family. Source: uxdesign.cc
  1. Personality - every icon has a particular flavor, feel, and mood it reflects, e.g., LinkedIn icons are formal and light.
LinkedIn icons. Source: LinkedIn
  1. Ease of use - after designing an icon set, it should be tested and iterated over if required to ensure it is easy to use.

Icons are an essential part of an interface and help improve user experience. However, a poorly designed icon confuses the users and does more harm than good. The first priority should be to ensure that icons convey meaning and ensure that they are aesthetically pleasing.

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Sheza Naveed
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