Using Icons in Design

Patrick Neil explains how, if properly employed, website icons can be much more than just decoration.

The use of icons in design has a far reaching history, so it should come as no surprise to find these clever media for rapid communication used in web design - especially when you consider a website is estimated to have less than 30 second to pull some one in. Their potential for summing up and conveying lots of information quickly is invaluable in the fight to keep the viewers attention.

There are two possible ways to employ icons in web design in my observation, at least . Then first is to carry out their traditional function rapidly communicating information - while the second is to provide visual interest and stimulation. If your goal is to streamline the users experience, then you must consider the icons you use very carefully. Of course they must match stylistically, but more importantly, they must also convey the correct message.

Often it seems that icons are put into a context they are not commonly connected with. But changing the connection people have in their brains between icons and meaning can be very difficult, with common connections nearly impossible to break. On the other hand, of course, you may simply be using icons to dress up a design. But even in these cases, you must not forget that your icons, however decorative, are still saying something. Users will make their connections and you simply can not change what the users connect icons with. The heart of the question, then, is how to use theses icons and their meanings in such a way that they speed up communication, inform the user about what might follow and generally make the browsing experience easier. Or ultimately, to use them both to beautify and simplify.


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