This article puts forward major website icon trends and tips for designing good icons, as well as principles for using them on a website.
The fact that everyone loves icons is undeniable. Nevertheless, they can either make or break the interface – it all depends on how they are designed and used. Understanding their key roles on the website will only add clarity into the preparation process.
Icons have been invented to simplify everything: interface usability, concept perception and the design process. Instead of reading huge piles of website content, users can simply scan through the boxes of text with the elegant icons attached. Or they can also navigate through the website with the help of tiny and well-recognised icons. In fact, modern website design trends cannot go without icons, but icons have their own trends too. And if you are looking for an attractive and engaging website, trends matter.
Flat icons – these appear simple at first. However, present-day reality indicates that simplicity is the biggest source of creativity. The principle of designing flat icons is simple – you extract only the most important elements from an object, no unnecessary details, no complex graphics and finally, no gradients. It was hard for the community (of both designers and customers) to let the gradients pass away, but it finally happened. Flat icons also need to use their own flat colours.
Thin icons – this is quite a young trend that continues to gather attention and admiration. It all started with Apple’s icons. So don’t be shocked when you see them called Apple-style icons.
Material icons – these are not all that different from flat icons as they use the same clean and minimalistic approach. However, material design allows more three-dimensional arrangement of layers. In other words, the icons look more realistic due to the complexity of graphics and colour selection.
Even if you create modern - looking and trendy icons, you can still mess it up through poor usability, style incompatibility, or content inconsistency.
Another factor that should be decisive for a UI & UX website designer is the use of text next to navigation icons. When considering responsive design and cleaner interfaces, it’s become trendy to substitute text buttons with small icons. When aiming to simplify the interface, do not be afraid of text, especially next to icons that can cause ambiguity or confusion.
Combining website design with the style of icons
Using old-style website elements (like buttons with gradients or too much text) with flat or material icons can ruin your website interface. Make sure all the elements are of the same style and you continue to use the right colour combination. Quite often, businesses just decide to add a few icons and rearrange the text a bit. But this will only ruin your redesign project.
Making sure your icons clearly represent the ideas in your text
When you use icons for better content readability, this will always be set next to text. Ideally, both text and icons should be created by one person who will clearly show the written idea with the help of an icon. Or there should at least be close collaboration between a copywriter and designer to ensure the overlapping of ideas.
Designing every set of icons in the same style
When you have 5 content boxes that describe 5 different features of a product, it’s critical to use the same style – icons of the same thinness, either full icons or outlines, either flat or material style. Yet it’s still acceptable (and often advisable) to use a different style for a separate set of icons on the website.
Even if you do decide to use icons without text, try to test how recognisable they are – ask a few people whether they understand their meaning without any context and hints. Also, take regional differences into account – the same icon can mean different things in two different countries.
The biggest tip for designing and using icons on your website is making sure they convey the message clearly.