The Medium and Mechanics of Iconography

Iconography is arguably the Esperanto of the digital world. Icons cannot replace the written word, yet they serve as cognitive waypoints for areas of interest and/or interaction. Iconography can also be an efficient way to communicate a concept in a small amount of space, which is increasingly important in the era of the shrinking screen. At its most basic, icon design is an exercise in illustration; at its most complex, the creation of a communication system. If understanding how to design icons wasn't enough, the way they are produced and displayed on a screen can have immeasurable impact on a person's experience.

The purpose of this lesson is to share some thinking behind creating signs and iconography as well as to focus on ways to create and display them.

  1. Symbolic, Iconic, and Indexical Signs

    Focus on the meanings of symbolic, iconic and indexical signs, then think about common icons that employ each of these methods of communication. Try to come up with scenarios where each method would be appropriate to use.

  2. Insights on Symbol Design

    Look at all the elements that the article calls out as important. Which elements resonate with you the most? Try to understand why you gravitate towards any specific elements and how that may impact the icons you create.

  3. The Floppy Disk means Save

    Think about the implications of designing icons around objects that may no longer be relevant. Do those icons simply become abstract symbols? With the precedent set, should those icons ever be redesigned? Your task is to work out an informed opinion.

  4. The Making of Octicons

    Focus on the amount of systems put in place to design and output the final icons. Think of the type of icons you'd like to make (raster, vector, font, all of the above) and work to create your own systems and processes to support their creation.

  5. The Era of Symbol Fonts

    This article only scratches the surface of semantic iconography. Think of three unique ways you could use semantic icons on a site to create a unique or improved experience. Once you come up with those ideas, share them with the rest of us.

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