In our elearning, user guides, infographics and other projects, we make a lot of use of icons. Icons are useful, simplified images to use for buttons, topic headers, and other places that need a quick, punchy graphic that can be easily and quickly read. Here are some guidelines on how to create effective icons.
1. Look and feel of content design
First, consider the existing look and feel of your elearning design. When designing your icons, will they be consistent and harmonious with the graphics you are already using? Will they fit in with the user interface style and client branding? Naturally, you also need to ensure that these elements are also consistent throughout the icon set you are using. If you are drawing a series of icons to indicate a number of related items, consider how they will relate to each other, while still being distinct and readable.
This is where you analyse the keywords that each icon needs to represent, and then try to create the right visual representation or metaphor for those words. You’ll have to distill down the simplest images and symbols associated with the concepts you need to communicate.
Consider also whether you’re designing for a company intranet, or an international, publicly available site. If it’s the latter, will there be cultural differences in the symbols you choose to represent an idea? There may not be such a thing as one image that will mean the same thing to everybody worldwide, but try to keep in mind what imagery is universally understood by your chosen audience.
3. Keep it simple
The sizing of your icons in your elearning have some effect on the amount of detail you can put in your design, but in any case, less is more. The purpose of an icon is to be immediately readble, so adding too much detail or complicated designs will only make your icons harder to read. Even when creating icons in an illustrative style, the symbol should still be easily recognized and understood.