My Icon Design Process

My Icon Design Process

A lot of you keep asking what does my working process is like, so I’ve decided to dedicate an entire article to my icon designing routine. Finished and polished icons sets look gorgeous and may seem to be so easy to create. Not even close!

As it is impossible to fit every little detail into just one article, I will continue sharing the insights of my working process with you as we go in the future. For now, here are some of my icon designing keynotes.

1. Ask Questions

When working for a client, the first thing you should do is ask a lot of questions. That’s right, clarify what you don’t understand, otherwise you will get frustrated in the process of making icons for them. Create a questionnaire and ask your client to fill it in. It won’t take them more than 10 minutes, and you will get the idea of which path to take.

It is very important to make your questionnaire clear and informative. I will cover up the ‘how to create a good questionnaire’ topic in one of my following newsletters, because it is so important, it needs a whole email.
Let me just tell you that the most crucial thing is to never let your client dictate what symbols there should be. Even though “the customer is always right”, all you need is simple topics, and it is your job to cover them with the correct icons. It may be difficult to find that perfect metaphor, but it’s entirely a designer’s responsibility, not the client’s.

2. Find Perfect Metaphors

So here you are – knowing what you need to accomplish, but you are totally lost with finding the best symbols for your icons. Yes, it gets hard sometimes. For example, a simple magnifier could mean a lot of different things: search, find, locate, discover, zoom, investigate, view, etc.

What I do is check synonym.com for the related keywords. You can use the Google Image Search to discover similar images or even icons themselves. Find the best matching object and then think of the way to incorporate it into your icon. Don’t forget to make it as simple as possible, but keep it easily recognisable.

3. Work On The Style

Another thing a client shouldn’t tell you is which style the icons need to be made in. Of course, they can give you suggestions, telling what they want, but sometimes what they want isn’t what they truly need 🙂 It is up to you as a designer to decide on the icon style, and persuade the client to follow the right path.
So many factors influence your icon style, but the questions you need you ask yourself and then answer through your work are mainly, what are these icons going to be used for? What size is perfect for that purpose? Should they match the existing branding or is it an entirely fresh project? Are your icons going to be used with other icons?

4. Always Sketch

Once you have decided on your style, and you have thought of all the possible symbols, you can finally start sketching. While doing it, try to refine the style and find the best grid for the entire set. Make at least a few sketches for each icon.

Some metaphors are easier to illustrate in one style than another. So if you see that there are a couple of symbols that deliver the same message in any style, go with the one that looks better. Simple as that. But remember – never sacrifice icon clarity for a better look

5. Vectorising

After a quick sketching session you can start vectorising your icons. Start with a pixel perfect illustrator file, then create a grid and make some good-looking vectors.

Quick Tip: To make it easier, you could take a photo of your sketch and paste it into Illustrator.
Sometimes sketches look better on the paper than after you’ve vectorised them. Don’t panic, just work a little bit more on them to make them look better.

6. The Importance Of Tweaking

So now, when all the icons from the set are done, it is high time to refine and tweak them. This part is really important, because only when you have the complete set, you can work on separate icons to make them all look cohesive. Pay attention to the style and size – make sure all the icons are even and evenly beautiful 😉 Believe me, this takes a massive amount of time, but you should never give up on this step.

You can also check how your icons will look where they will be used. If it is app icons you are working on, place them into an app screen and so on.

7. Do Some More Tweaking (Not Twerking)

Told you, this takes a lot of iterations to make the whole set look stunning. 🙂

8. The Finish Line

Take a moment to look at your icon set. Beautiful, isn’t it? Now you need your client to think the same.

Prepare a nice presentation. It shouldn’t be huge and fancy (but you icons should!). A sneak peak of the designing process and a little bit of explanation is enough.

You should justify all your decisions – specify why you have chosen this exact style, colours, etc. You can’t just send the icons and be like “That’s it, now give the money”. Nope, it’s not how it works. The client must feel certain that you’re the true professional who did everything perfectly, and that they made a great choice.

That’s all, folks! This is how I work. I will definitely go into more details later, as there are still quite a few tricky topics to cover, and I will go back to those important ones I’ve mentioned above, so stay tuned.

Do you have something to add? Share your working process! Reach out to me! Have a productive week.

Stay awesome, space cowboys!


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