No matter how sleek your product’s layout or ingenious its features, your users won’t stick around long if they’re utterly baffled while navigating your app. Clear, intuitive icons are crucial for usability, allowing users to easily identify their options at a glance.
As a lifelong doodler with no formal design training, I’ve had to utilize every trick for whipping up halfway-decent icons over my career. When I first started out as a web developer, I proudly showed my icons to our lead designer Ethan, expecting gushing praise over my artwork. “Nice…triangles?” he said after squinting at my drawings. Back to the drawing board – literally!
Through much trial and tribulation (and many YouTube sketching tutorials), I’ve discovered some key principles for icon design and usability:
Simplicity Rules Busyness is the enemy! Icons should convey their meaning as efficiently as possible. Start with basic geometric shapes rather than overcomplicated illustrations. Remember – an icon is a visual shorthand that users view small or in passing, not a artistic masterpiece to pore over. Resist packing them with intricate detains that will soon blur into visual noise.
Use Color and Contrast Strategically
Vibrant colors and sharp light/dark contrast help icons stand out and be more scannable in your interface. But beware of relying solely on color cues, which can challenge colorblind users. Also ensure adequate contrast levels so shapes remain identifiable even losing saturation.
Leverage Common Symbolism Where applicable, draw upon embedded cultural meaning of shapes and imagery. A heart shape conveys “love;” a star is associated with ratings and quality. Consider universally understood metaphors to communicate icon intent. But also recognize when extending symbolic meaning too far becomes confusing rather than clarifying. Not every concept has an obvious correlated symbol – it’s okay to utilize more generic shapes.
Maintain Consistency in Style Icons should feel cohesive in aesthetic style, with consistent ink thickness and levels of detail. This helps strengthen UI clarity and brand identity. As a solo developer I often took a “that’ll do” approach, fusing together icons of mismatched styles. But over time I learned maintaining visual consistency creates a more premium, trustworthy impression.
Test for Intuitive Comprehension
As experts in our own interfaces, designers easily forget that first-time users lack all context for deciphering icons’ meaning. Rigorously test icons are actually intuitive through user research – don’t just assume they’ll make innate sense! I learned this lesson after confidently launching a feature solely indicated by a play button icon – and discovering users completely missed its existence.
At the end of the day, perfectionism can be an enemy of shipping. In an effort to elevate my UI, I’ve agonized for hours over icon details that hardly impacted user comprehension. Build in rapid testing opportunities for refinement over future iterations, but don’t let endless tweaking prevent launching an usable – if still imperfect – first version.
While there’s a science behind icon recognizability, there’s artfulness too in elegantly conveying complex ideas through simpler symbols. With each new app, I’m gaining more intuitive finesse for distilling functionality down to its essence. Though likely I’ll never match Ethan’s innate illustrative talents, I’m gradually getting better at speaking users’ visual language. Maybe one day he’ll even elevate my humble triangles into something worthy of praise!