What Makes Good Icon Design?

What goes into creating good icon design that communicates a message or idea in a teeny, tiny space? Well, the answer is simply simplicity. We recently had the pleasure of redesigning some of the icons for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Their previous icons were good, but they could use some improvement. Visitors to their website want to know where they can go hiking, biking, horseback-riding, camping, and sometimes more importantly which preserves have bathrooms. These activities and amenities can be communicated to their audience with just a few simple icons.

Mountain Biking Icon

Mountain Biking Icon

One of the steps we took to improve the icons was to reverse the image from a negative to a positive graphic. The eye has an easier time making out shapes when they are shown in a positive fashion. Think about trying to read the newspaper as a negative, where the background would be all black and they type would be in white. How many articles could you read before your brain and eyes felt tired? Maybe one. It’s the same concept here, the eye has an easier time with black items on a white background than the other way around.

Strenuous Hike Icon

Strenuous Hike Icon

Here’s where the simplicity comes in. So for example, this icon had to convey a strenuous hike so we removed the two hikers and replaced them with one. This allowed the image of the person to be larger and therefore easier for the eye to make out, especially at the small size in which these will be shown most of the time.



Lunch icon

Cohesion is another important component of a family of icons or images. We set out to improve the way some of the icons matched the style of the other ones, so we changed the drawing style (or line style) by making them the same as the others and gave them a more modern, updated look. People usually inherently like cohesion, and they like things to match, unless they’re a mis-matcher. Are you a matcher or a mis-matcher? Take the quiz.

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