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The most typical faults in icon design?

#1 Poor differentiation between images
It often happens that within one set of icons, we have icons that look similar to one another and it is very difficult to understand which one is which. If you don“t see the legends, you can very easily get the icons mixed up.

#2 Too many elements in the icon
The cleaner and more laconic the icon is, the better. It is preferable to set the number of elements in a single icon to a minimum. However, Microsoft“s artists, inspired by the new format of icons introduced in Windows Vista, decided to go big and drew bloated icons to justify their bloated budget.

#3 Unnecessary objects
An icon should be easy to understand. The fewer objects it holds, the better. It is great if the whole picture is relevant and not only part of it. That means, you have to pay attention to the context of using icons.
Look at the database icons, for instance. The pack may appear fine at a first glance, but if this application (or a specific toolbar) deals only with databases, we can (and should) delete the unnecessary part.

#4 Non-unified style within a set of icons
It is a similar style that unites several icons into a pack. The uniting property can be any of the these: color scheme, layout, size, artistic technique or a combination of several such properties. If the icon set is rather small, the creator can remember the rules easily. If the icon set contains over a hundred images and there is more the one designer working on this task (for example, icons for an operating system), then specific instructions are developed. Such instructions carefully describe how to draw an icon so that it perfectly matches the set.

#5 Spare perspective and shadows in small icons
Progress does not stand still: GUIs have gained the power to display semi-transparent items, lost the limitation on the number of colors and there is currently a trend towards 3D icons. But is it really all that useful? Not always! Especially if we are talking about icons in size 16?16 or smaller.

#6 Misusing original symbols
Selecting what is to be drawn in an icon is always 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 projects. Maybe the most suitable solution is not in inventing something original but rather in adopting the common solution.

#7 Ethnical or cultural characteristics not being considered
It is always helpful to take into account the conditions in which your icon will appear. An important aspect here is ethnical differences. Social traditions, surroundings and gestures can differ radically from nation to nation.
For example, a mail box would seam to be a great symbol for a ”Mail‘ icon. But you will find all the different types of mailboxes in different countries. In that case, you should either make your icon represent the mailbox that is typical for the user“s country or state, or select a more universal symbol like a post stamp.

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

#9 Text inside icons
This mistake is usually seen in application icons. Clearly the first thing that comes to mind when working on an application icon is to adapt the application“s logo. What is so bad with the text embedded into the icon? First of all, it is directly language-related and so impedes localization. Secondly, if the icon is done in a small size, The text is not readable. Thirdly, in the case of application icons, this text is duplicated in the caption of the software.

#10 Outside the pixel framework
This problem usually occurs if you use a vector format for creating your icons. In large size the images looks pretty and clear; but in reality the icons are tiny, and under rasterization anti-aliasing frets the objects“ edges.

 Standard Toolbar Icons

Standard Toolbar Icons

 Science Toolbar Icons

Science Toolbar Icons

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