How To Design Great Icons

Description: While the difference between a good icon and a great one won't make or break your website, it will certainly influence what people think of your website. That's why it's worth finding out what makes a great icon.

Icons don't have to be complicated to make a good impression. In fact, the opposite is true - the simpler they are, the better they usually perform.

So what exactly is an icon?

Put simply, an icon is a small image that represents the function that the icon is designed to represent. That might sound unnecessarily complicated, but there are plenty of good examples around which show us that this is probably one of the best descriptions there is.

Think about your computer for example - or more accurately the desktop. The chances are that you have some folders on your desktop that you use fairly regularly. The icon for a folder is? well, a folder. If you have Windows Vista you'll notice that the more you put in your folder, the fuller the icon will appear to be.

Of course there are plenty of popular and recognisable icons on the internet too, which you can put to good use on your website. The icon for an RSS feed is an orange box with rounded corners, which has white curved lines radiating out from one of those corners to illustrate the effect that distributing a feed has - it spreads the news about your website. Different social networking sites also have their own icons, and looking at these will help you to get some ideas for designing your own.

This gives us the first and most important key to designing great icons of our own. We need to consider two things - what the function of the icon will be (where will it lead us or what function will it serve when we click on it?), and how can we create an image that will help to convey that purpose?

This is where a spot of writing will come in handy. You might find it useful to write down the main purpose of your icon in the center of a sheet of paper and jot down some ideas for images all around it. This could be in the form of single words which pop into your mind, whole sentences or even doodles which give you an idea of what to create.

Once you have an idea you think will work, it's time to actually go ahead with the design process itself. There are several great software packages available which allow you to design your own icons; these vary from being very hands on for those who can easily transfer their image from their brains to their computer screens thanks to their innate drawing skills, to the ultimate ?hands off and create your icons with just a few clicks of your mouse' type of affair.

Experience is the best route to designing great icons. Even the best web designers come up with some bad designs at one time or another. The key is not to fall into the trap of feeling that you have to plaster your website with as many icons as you can. If you look at many successful websites, a lot of icons are grouped together in one easy to access place - especially when it comes to the icons which encourage people to bookmark and share what they've found.

Keep on designing new icons and learn from what works and what doesn't. Keep the colours simple too - arguably no more than three colors at most should be used in a small icon. Any more than that would be overkill.

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