I was saving this article for my icon design guide, but eventually decided I didn’t want to wait. I’m also getting plenty of emails regarding the developing of your own style and creating unique icons, so I think it’s high time to share it with you!
So how important is it to have your own unique and recognisable style? How to discover it? And what benefits could it bring?
First thing to remember is that icon design in general shouldn’t be unique. It doesn’t mean that the style shouldn’t be either, though. You can recreate the same icon in a million different styles to find the one that would fit the project perfectly. However, your icon metaphors shouldn’t be unique. Unlike the logo design, where you need to come up with a smart, catchy and interesting mark.
In iconography, it’s important that a person can recognise the icon in a split second. And this can only be done by using the time-tested and well-known metaphors. So don’t be afraid to use the good old magnifying glass to indicate “search” just because it’s not unique.
If you manage to solve a problem by creating something unique – kudos to you! This is how the world is moving forward. But it sure is not easy.
A lot of people tend to worry about discovering their own unique style too much. To the extent where this fear stops them from creating anything at all, simply because they think it’s not unique enough. They look up to people that have already developed their own style and, therefore, want to have their unique style too, at the very beginning of their career. But the most important thing they usually don’t take into consideration is that those who have already found their style usually had been working in this design field for thousands of hours before they mastered that recognisable style. You can take a dribbble profile of almost any amazing designer whose works you adore and scroll to the beginning where they started just to see that they weren’t born with the style or skills they have today.
Anyways, having your own recognisable style could be really rewarding. I’m a strong believer that it’s better to do one thing extremely well, rather than be mediocre at many. Your unique style could be a thing that brings a lot of clients to you. Think about the best tattoo artists, they usually specialise in one particular style. And people who want a tattoo in this style go straight to them, because they know that that artist is the best at it. Same rule applies to the clients looking for an icon designer. Usually an art director at some large design studio gets a project that needs icons in particular style. They look online for icon designers to find the one who does this kind of work better than the rest. And if your portfolio is filled with a bunch of great work in this style, it’s a no-brainer they will pick you.
Moreover, having a unique and recognisable style might help you build a really passionate following base. Only people who love your style would follow you, making an army of raving fans!
So how do I find my own unique style?
In my opinion, the best way to discover your own icon design style is working on it every single day without actually thinking what your unique style should be or how you should stand out from the rest of the designers. Try out a bunch of different styles, grid sizes, colour combinations, stroke weights, etc. Mimic the work of others, try changing something a little bit. Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail. As cliched as it may sound, you can learn from your mistakes. If you tried a new style and it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to — don’t be upset. I’m sure you can spot something positive and use it in your next icon set. Hey, at least you’ve found something that doesn’t work and you will avoid it in the future!
Even the great minds make mistakes, but as Thomas A. Edison once said,
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.
So stop thinking about how you could make your first icon set in the style that world hasn’t seen yet. Instead, focus on working on iconography as much as you can, without worrying about the style. You will see how little by little your unique style will emerge without you even noticing.