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The most typical mistakes in icon design?

#1 Poor differentiation between icons
It often happens that within one pack of icons, we see icons that look alike and it is really difficult to tell what is what. If you don“t see the signatures, you can very easily get the icons mixed up.

#2 Unnecessary elements in the icon
The cleaner and more laconic the icon is, the better. It is preferable to set the number of objects in a single icon to a minimum. However, Microsoft“s designers, excited by the new format of icons featured in Windows Vista, decided to go big and created bloated icons to proof worthy their over packed budget.

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

#4 Non-unified style within a set of icons
It is a similar style that turns several icons into a set. The unifying property can be any of the these: similar colors, layout, resolution, drawing technique or a combination of several such properties. If the set only contains a few icons, the creator can keep some rules in his head. If the icon set contains over a hundred images and there are several designers working on this task (for example, icons for an operating system), then specific guidelines should be developed. Such guidelines carefully describe how to design an icon so that it fits straight into the set.

#5 Unnecessary perspective and shadows in small icons
Progress does not stand still: GUIs have gotten the potential to display semi-transparent items, the number of possible colors to use became unlimited and there is currently a trend towards 3D icons. But is it actually all that helpful? Not necessarily! Especially if we are looking at icons in size 16?16 or smaller.

#6 Overly original symbols
Selecting what is to be included in an icon is always a compromise between reconcilability and uniqueness. Before a symbol (image) is developed for an icon it is advisable to see how it is designed in other projects. Maybe the most suitable solution lies not in inventing something original but rather in adopting the existing solution.

#7 National or cultural differences 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 characteristics. Cultural customs, surroundings and gestures can differ radically from nation to nation.
For instance, a mail box appears to be a great symbol for a ”Mail‘ icon. However, 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 chouse a more general symbol like a post stamp.

#8 Pictures of real GUI 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 no use! We still have lost of icons that can be read as a couple of separate ones.

#9 Text inside icons
This mistake is typically seen in software icons. Clearly 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 embedded into the icon? Firstly, it is strictly language-related and so forces localization. Secondly, if the icon is done in a small size, it is impossible to read the text. Thirdly, in the case of software icons, this text is duplicated in the caption of the application.

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

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Standard Toolbar Icons

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Science Toolbar Icons

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