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The most common mistakes in icon design?


#1 Insufficient differentiation between images
Sometimes within a single pack of icons, we have icons that look similar and it is really difficult to understand what is what. If you miss the legends, you can very easily be confused by those icons.

#2 Unnecessary elements in one icon
The cleaner and more laconic the icon is, the better. It is preferable to keep the number of elements in a single icon to a minimum. Nevertheless, Microsoft“s graphic designers, inspired by the new format of icons introduced in Windows Vista, tried to go big and drew over packed icons to proof worthy their over packed budget.

#3 Unnecessary elements
An icon should be easy to understand. The fewer objects it holds, the better. It is better if the whole picture makes sense and not only part of it. That means, you have to pay attention to the context of using icons.
Take the database icons, for instance. The set may appear fine for a novice, but if this application (or a separate toolbar) deals only with databases, we can (and we must) remove the unnecessary part.

#4 Lack of unity of style in a set of icons
It is a unity of style that unites several icons into a pack. The uniting property can be one of the these: similar colors, layout, size, artistic style or a combination of several such properties. If the set only contains a few icons, the designer can keep some rules in his head. If the icon set contains over a hundred images and there are several designers working on them (for instance, icons for a new OS), then specific instructions are developed. Such guidelines describe in detail how to design an icon so that it fits straight into the rest of the pack.

#5 Spare perspective and shadows in small icons
The progress is moving fast: GUIs have gained the power to display semi-transparent items, lost the limitation on the number of colors and there is now a trend towards 3D icons. But is it actually all that useful? Not necessarily! Especially if we are talking about icons in size 16?16 or smaller.

#6 Overly original symbols
Selecting what is to be displayed in an icon is constantly a compromise between readability and uniqueness. Prior to a symbol (image) is developed for an icon it is wise to see how it is done in other products. Maybe the best solution lies not in coming up with something original but rather in adopting the existing solution.

#7 National or cultural characteristics not being taken into account
It is always helpful to consider the conditions in which your icon is going to be used. A key aspect here is national characteristics. Cultural customs, surroundings and gestures can vary radically from country to country.
For example, a mail box appears to be a great image for a ”Mail‘ icon. But you can see all the different kinds of mailboxes around the world. In that situation, you should either create an icon to copy the mailbox that is typical for the user“s country or state, or chouse a more universal symbol like an envelope.

#8 Pictures of real interface parts in icons
The tutorial on creating icons for Mac OS X tells us: ”Avoid using Aqua interface elements in your icons; they could be confused with the actual interface.‘ But all in vain! There still are lost of icons that can be read as a few separate ones.

#9 Text embedded into icons
This fault is typically seen in application icons. Naturally the first thing that crosses your mind when working on an application icon is to use the application“s logo. What is so bad about the text embedded into the icon? Firstly, it is directly language-related and so impedes localization. Secondly, if the icon is done in a small size, it is impossible to read the text. Thirdly, in the case of application icons, this text is repeated in the name of the software.

#10 Outside the pixel framework
As a rule, this problem occurs if you use a vector format for drawing icons. In large size everything looks pretty and clean; but in reality the icons are tiny, and under rasterization anti-aliasing blurs the objects“ borders.


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