< Projects‎ | Usability‎ | HIG
Revision as of 14:19, 31 December 2013 by Htietze (talk | contribs) (→‎Guidelines)



Icons are pictorial representations of functions and objects, important not only for aesthetic reasons as part of the visual identity of a program, but also for utilitarian reasons as shorthand for conveying meaning that users perceive almost instantaneously. Well-designed icons improve the visual communication and strongly impact users' overall impression of visual design. Last but not least, icons are space-saving and improve usability by making programs, objects, and actions easier to identify, learn.


  • As a developer use an icon from the predefined set. KDE uses the Oxygen icon set. Ask at the kde-artists mailing list if the set lacks on a specific item.
  • As a designer create icons with varying sizes in respect to the level of design. Simply scaling down (or up) does not work.
  • Design icons with a small number of metaphors [1].
    • Apply metaphors only once (e.g. do not use a brush twice for different options).
    • Rethink conventionally used metaphors (e.g. the clipboard icon of paste).
    • Antiquated metaphors might work well (e.g. a floppy is not necessarily outdated to represent save).
    • Adjust the degree of abstractness according to familiarity of the metaphor.
    • Use arrows only if they can easily be related to spatial features such as Previous/Next in a sequence or Up/Down in a hierarchy. Avoid using arrows metaphorically (such as for Reply/Forward or Undo/Redo).
    • Define metaphors independent from language and culture.
    • Make icons simple.
  • Colorize icons according to the meaning but in respect to application’s colors.
  • Don’t use animated icons.
  • Test your icon set on strength of association, discriminatory power, conspicuousness, and, if applicable, on accessibility.



[1] http://user-prompt.com/semiotics-in-usability-guidelines-for-the-development-of-icon-metaphors/

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