The Importance of Icons in Your Website Design

Alex Wand
By Alex Wand

There are a series of elements that make up a website, such as text, colors, images, illustrations, etc. One of these elements is icons, which are used a variety of websites with different styles.

Icons (from the Greek “eikōn,” meaning “image”) are one of the most used graphic elements in our digital age but stem from the remotest antiquity. Icons have served as key points of varied information throughout history and there are extensive studies on the importance of iconography in different human civilizations.

The fundamental mission of an icon is to offer, without distracting, specific visual information. In order to successfully perform this mission, an icon must have a series of characteristics, among which the following stand out:

  • Icons should be as simple as possible, but with enough details to express the intended message. If icons are too complex and/or have too many traces, they can become confusing and potentially convey the wrong message.
  • It is important to be mindful of various icon models that are already widely accepted by the public in general. For example, if an error message appears when filling out a form, the alert icon that accompanies the text helps us understand that it is an important error or warning. If we would use a heart symbol it would completely confuse the user. Changing this model that users are accustomed to can cause the icon to lose clarity and lead to a failure in communication and information.
  • Icons need to be perfectly designed for the specific information that it will represent.

Why Are Icons so Important?

Icons describe functions.

Although using words to explain concepts is the most direct approach, users may get bored or lose focus with too much text and skip over the message altogether. For this reason, adding icons to describe these functions and features may be an even more effective approach. Not only do they add a more variety to the section, but they also reinforce the message with a visual explanation. This makes it much easier for the user to relate the icon to the concept and understand the features or functions described.

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Icons explain a story.

Icons are often used when explaining a process, as you can visually represent each step. They help us visually understand each step of a process and facilitate the visual separation and understanding of the elements they contain.

Icons help fill out forms.

A web form is one of the best ways to get prospective clients and indirectly establish a cordial relation with them. The time you spend bringing the user to your website should be complemented with the same amount of time perfecting the user experience, including your web forms.

A textual description of the data required in each field oftentimes accompanies an icon; however, in certain forms, it is possible to find related icons that are understood without the use of words. The main objective of every designer is that the web form can be completed quickly and easily. Adding both the data type and a related icon improves quick understanding.

Icons help optimize navigation.

As we already know, icons help explain concepts in a visual way. They can also be used as distinctive elements in navigating a website, such as making it is easier to locate and follow certain information throughout the site. For example, let’s say your business has 5 different services and those services are listed on the homepage with a specific icon for each of them. After clicking on one of the service icons, it will be much easier for the user to understand what service he or she is diving into if that new page has the same service logo in the hero section.

From a visual, perspective icons can provide some style to a site:

Many styles of icons exist. Some icons use shadows and reliefs, planes, linear, 3D effects, etc. By using a specific style in your icons, personality is added to the overall design. For this reason, it is important to use icons that visually fit your website aesthetics for a more corporate design.

Conclusion

The creation of icons is a complicated process — not because they require a lot of work, but because it is very difficult to represent the exact message you want to express with a simple figure.

Icons have a huge impact on a website, as each element that you place on your site can affect the overall user experience. Be mindful of the appropriateness of the icons used on your site, as it can help avoid ineffective usage of them along with mistakenly adding them to the wrong sections of the site.

Here are some recommended resources that I commonly use:

Resources:

  • The noun project
  • Free vectors
  • Free Vector Icons

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