7 steps to better icon design for beginners

steps to better icon design

Icons are an important feature on every website. They have many advantages including elevating the site’s design as well as capturing the user’s attention. There are websites that use icons to promote their brand. When users see their icons, they instantly associate them with their brand. Icons determine whether a user remembers or forgets your website. By following the right steps to better icon design, you’ll be able to design icons that create a long-lasting impact on users and helps them recognise your brand.

steps to better icon design

Attributes of Great Icon Design

Before getting started on the design, you need to know the attributes that define what great icon design is. Keep this in mind even when designing icons for a simple website or app.

Structure
This refers to the underlying form of the icon. You can identify it by ignoring all the fancy details and drawing simple lines along the major shapes. It could be a square, rectangle, circle or any other shape. For an icon to be successful, it needs to follow a simple recognisable form or pattern. Geometric shapes such as triangles, squares, circles and rectangles usually form a stable foundation for most icon designs.

Character
An icon’s character is defined by the elements it contains. They can even be shared across an icon set. Such elements include colours, square or rounded corners, line-weights, styles and more. By determining the character you want the icons to display, you’ll be able to come up with a better design.

Identity
The identity of an icon refers to the aspects that make it unique. It’s identity allows users to easily recognise the idea, object or action the icon depicts. If this isn’t clear enough, then the icon doesn’t have a clear identity and this provides room for failure.

Now that you know the attributes that your icons should have, here are 7 steps to better icon design for beginners.

Step One: Start With A Grid

Having a grid for your icon design is the first in the steps to better icon design whether they are hand-drawn icons or they’re being designed on a computer. You can use a simple square grid to sketch your first draft of the icon. Although using a square grid is the standard for better icon design, this doesn’t mean that your icons should be square. They can be rectangular, circular or any other shape. For the sake of consistency, ensure that the icons are centred and are well aligned, both vertically and horizontally. This will save you a lot of time later on even when designing the icon set.

Step Two: Make Use Of Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes are easily recognisable at first glance. This gives users a feeling of familiarity thus making them more interested in the icons. The most common geometric shapes are triangles, squares and circles. Most large companies have used geometric shapes for their icons. Icon designers mostly play around with different combinations of circles, straight lines and other shapes. Combining these shapes allows you to come up with a simple unique design. Another advantage is that the shapes can be recognised even at a small size.

Step Three: Choose Colours Wisely

The colours to use when designing icons for a particular brand are that brand’s official colours. The colours should be consistent across the entire icon set. This applies to the shades, colour combinations and colour patterns used. If you’re designing an icon set for a web design package, it is advisable to start with black and white icons. Gradually incorporate as you approach the finishing stages of the design. If the icons work well with a contrast of black and white, then they’ll also do well when coloured.

Step Four: Leave A Margin

Every icon you design should take up a central place on the grid but shouldn’t take up the entire grid space. You should leave a margin on all sides. For instance, if your grid is 32 by 32 pixels, leave a border of 2 pixels all around. The extra space left around the perimeter allows you to add a background to the icon if you wish thus giving it a different look. Leaving a margin makes it possible for your icon to be viewed in full everywhere it’s used. It also prevents the icon from being cut off in apps that display rounded edges.

Step Five: Design With Small In Mind

As you design your icons, keep in mind that they’ll be displayed in different sizes. Your icons should be clearly displayed when large, medium or small. Most of the time, we tend to only cater for the larger sizes. However, you should always design for the smallest size. Ask yourself whether icon can be seen clearly when it is smaller than the standard size. If this isn’t the case, start the icon design again or create an alternative icon set for tiny settings. Just ensure that in the end, the icons can be seen even in the smallest size.

Step Six: Keep Things Simple

Simple icons are the best. They make it easy for the people who see them to identify the brand they represent. By simple, we’re referring to the colour, outline and patterns. You can get inspiration from icon fonts which are the very definition of simple. Don’t go overboard by adding fancy effects and colour. For instance, using a shadow effect on a logo wastes valuable grid space and might interfere with the main object of focus. Keeping things simple also works to your advantage since you can easily and consistently replicate a design across an entire icon. Keep things simple and your icon design will still stand out.

Step Seven: Make The Design Clear

Several aspects come into play when making an icon design clear. First of all, you shouldn’t use a series of text or photographs. Both aren’t clearly visible at a smaller size. If you must use text, use one letter or better yet. Stay away from phrases and full sentences. Use straight connected lines and angles when drawing instead of using curves. This will make your design look professional and will make it easier for you to draw the icon with precision. Last but not least, your design should be recognisable both in colour and in black and white.

Icon design is so much fun and you get better at it as you keep practising. You can take a look at various icon sets to see how the designers followed the steps we’ve mentioned above. You should definitely try out approaching icon design with these steps and you’ll see that your designs will be better.

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