icon design

Jonathan Follett’s recent article in UXMatters, Seeing the World in Symbols: Icons and the Evolving Language of Digital Wayfinding covers the history of icon design with links to important resources such as the AIGA universal graphic system and the icon archive at GUIdebook: Graphic User Interface gallery.


In Steve Caplin’s book Icon Design, Susan Kare, the artist who created the icons for the original Mac desktop and applications said:“In general, I believe that icons should work a bit like traffic signs; they should convey information without distracting the user, without competing with the data in an application. Ideally, they should suggest something about the functionality. If it is not completely evident, then the function should be easy to remember if the user is told only once.”


Today, two decades after their advent, icons unnecessarily clutter the desktops of new computers and the toolbars of applications. Increasingly, rather than performing a user-centered wayfinding function, they instead serve a corporate-centered branding function, with application icons becoming tiny billboards for Microsoft®, Adobe®, and their fellow competitors. We’ve turned our virtual spaces into the visual equivalent of the Vegas strip, but without the fun. If the primary purpose of an icon is to appropriately represent an action and help a person accomplish a task quickly, as this visual clutter increases, icons are increasingly failing at that task.

source: Seeing the World in Symbols: Icons and the Evolving Language of Digital Wayfinding. UXMatters, December 18, 2006


In addition to this, there are the following ISO standards for icons

ISO/IEC 11581:2000 Information technology — User system interfaces and symbols — Icon symbols and functions —

  • Part 1: Icons — General
  • Part 2: Object icons
  • Part 3: Pointer icons
  • Part 4: Control icons
  • Part 5: Tool icons
  • Part 6: Action icons

ISO/IEC 18035:2003 Information technology — Icon symbols and functions for controlling multimedia software applications
ISO/IEC 18036:2003 Information technology — Icon symbols and functions for World Wide Web browser toolbars
ISO/IEC TR 19764:2005 Information technology — Guidelines, methodology and reference criteria for cultural and linguistic adaptability in information technology products
ISO/IEC 24738:2006 Information technology — Icon symbols and functions for multimedia link attributes 

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Dec 2006]