Icons are becoming increasingly popular in both online and print use, and there are many reasons why:
- Icons are easy to recognize.
Especially if they are something that has been seen before, icons provide a form of shorthand that is quickly recognized and understood. People are busy and time-crunched – anything that speeds up comprehension is valuable. Repeated use of an icon speeds up this understanding. Years ago the “hamburger” icon was not as mainstream; now it is universally understood to mean access to a menu.
- They reduce or eliminate the need for text to explain something.
A well-designed icon is helpful where space is limited. Today’s viewers have a limited attention span, and icons can grab attention more quickly than a lot of text. This is especially important in infographics. People don’t want to have to wade through a lot of information; they prefer to skim and quickly grasp concepts.
- They eliminate the need to translate.
In today’s global environment, concepts that transcend language or culture are popular because of ease of understanding, no matter what your audience. In some cases, they can eliminate the need for separate language versions altogether (i.e. in items that will be shipped to many countries.)
- They are visually pleasing.
A well-designed icon enhances the aesthetic appeal of a design because of its simplicity. Geometry, alignment, and symmetry can go a long way toward making an icon feel like a piece of art all by itself, not just a part of the message.
- They are used to indicate a family of products or ideas.
Icons can signal natural groupings, where similarity across different concepts unifies the whole. Complex product lines or concepts can be unified by a family of icons that highlights the similarities rather than the differences.
Well-designed icons can enhance your branding message, but they are not as simple as they may seem at first glance. Simplicity is actually very complex, and reducing an idea down to one symbol requires an understanding of design principles and communication.