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The most common errors in icon design?

#1 Insufficient differentiation between images
Sometimes within one pack of icons, we have icons that look similar and it is very hard to understand which one is which. 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 one icon as low as possible. But still, Microsoft“s artists, excited by the new icon format featured in Windows Vista, decided to go big and drew over packed icons to justify their bloated budget.

#3 Unnecessary objects
An icon should be easy to read. The fewer elements it holds, the better. It is great if the whole image makes sense and not just a part of it. Therefore, you have to pay attention to the context of using icons.
Take the database icons, for example. The pack may look fine at a first glance, but if this application (or a specific toolbar) deals only with databases, we can (and we must) remove the irrelevant part.

#4 Non-unified style within a pack of icons
It is a similar style that turns several icons into a set. The uniting property can be one of the following: similar colors, layout, size, artistic style or several of those properties combined. If the icon set is rather small, the designer can keep some rules in his head. However, if the icon set is large and there are several designers working on them (for example, icons for a new OS), then specific guidelines should be developed. Such instructions carefully describe how to draw an icon so that it perfectly fits into the rest of the pack.

#5 Spare details in small sized images
The progress is moving fast: interfaces have gained the potential to use semi-transparent items, the number of possible colors to use became unlimited and there is now a move 3D icons. But is it really all that helpful? Not necessarily! Especially if we are looking at icons sized 16?16 or smaller.

#6 Misusing original symbols
Selecting what is to be included in an icon is constantly a compromise between readability and originality. Prior to a metaphor (image) is developed for an icon it is smart to see how it is designed in other products. Maybe the best solution lies not in inventing something original but rather in adopting the common solution.

#7 National or social differences not being considered
It is always helpful to consider the conditions in which your icon will be used. An important aspect here is ethnical characteristics. Cultural traditions, surroundings and gestures can vary dramatically from country to country.
For example, a mail box would seam to be a perfect image for a ”Mail‘ icon. But you will 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 general symbol like a post stamp.

#8 Images of real interface parts in icons
The manual on designing 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! We still have lost of icons that can be read as two or even three separate ones.

#9 Text embedded into icons
This mistake is typically seen in application icons. Naturally the first thing that comes to mind when developing an application icon is to adapt the application“s logo. What is wrong about the text inside the icon? First of all, it is strictly language-related and so forces localization. Secondly, if the icon is small, it is impossible to read the text. Also, in the case of application icons, this text is repeated in the caption of the software.

#10 Outside the pixel framework
This problem usually occurs if you use a vector editor for drawing icons. In large size everything looks stylish and crisp; but in real life the icons are small, and under rasterization anti-aliasing blurs the objects“ edges.

 Standard Toolbar Icons

Standard Toolbar Icons

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Science Toolbar Icons

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