Icons are everywhere – reading materials, buildings, road signs, billboards, shop windows, and, of course, websites. We understand that in real life, icons are tools of communication. But what about online? Why are icons important on a website?

Icon and Visual Communication

What exactly is an icon? The short answer is that icons are visual cues. They communicate concepts and ideas.

The word itself comes from the Greek eikōn which translates to image. And that is precisely what it is: a way to communicate through widely recognized images.

On websites, they replace text content with images that have the ability to transcend languages and even cultures. It is no wonder they are the most commonly used graphic elements. They are also a key part of web design services and are usually included in web design prices.

Icons for Web

Characteristics of an Icon

An icon serves a purpose. That purpose is to communicate something to the audience; whether to provide information or give instructions.

To fulfill this purpose, an icon must be:

  • Simple – In fact, icons should be very simple to avoid distracting or confusing the viewers. However, it should not be too simple that it cannot express the message it wants to send.
  • Widely recognizable – Some icon models are already widely recognized by the general public. For instance, error messages are usually accompanied by a widely known alert icon. Variations of it exist and are acceptable but changing it completely would likely confuse the users.
  • Aligned – Icons must match the information or concept it will stand in for and represent.
  • Concise – Icons must be as compact as possible so there is enough room for the other functions.
  • Placed correctly – Icons should be placed where they are easy to find. This means that you should understand the worldwide trends and look for patterns. For example, the hamburger menu icon is usually at the top left corner of most other websites. People have been conditioned to look there. It only makes sense that you put yours in the top left corner, as well. Consistency is key, after all.

Fun Fact: The Evolution of Icons

Icon is an important part of web design services since the internet’s conception. Needless to say, icons have evolved over the years.

Let’s go through the major evolutionary changes in web design icons.

  • 1980s – Icons were bleak and monochromatic.
  • 1990s – Icons were finally given colors, and in some instances, shadows and shades. A simple 3D feel was also added.
  • 2000s – Icons became more realistic. They were flashy, shiny, glossy, multi-layered, transparent, bigger, and better.
  • 2010s – The trend is back to basics, with simple shapes and sizes that are more natural and clean.

Throughout its evolution, though, icons have become an integral part of web design because of its effectiveness in communicating messages to the users.

Why icons important

Why are Icons Important on a Website?

Now, let us move on to the main part of our design discussion: why icons are important on a website.

  1. Icons serve as a quick summary.Attention spans are getting shorter. This poses a challenge for Sydney web design experts to communicate the message in a way that it can be quickly absorbed by the users. Icons provide a summary of the information you wish to share quickly and easily. It renders additional text unnecessary. As an example, the web design trend of infographics has replaced stats and other text heavy information, making it easier for users to absorb the information.
  2. Icons make your website pretty.Because they replace texts and other elements in your website and use images to convey and reinforce the message; it streamlines everything, making it neat and more visually appealing.
  3. Icons improves the web page’s readability.Icons help declutter your web pages and make the users’ reading experience a little less stressful. Data has shown that a site’s readability impacts user experience and user experience impacts the site’s performance. Icons are an ideal way to get rid of the clutter without losing or distorting the message you want to convey.
  4. Icons give direction.Icons point the users to where they need to go. Take Facebook as an example. Icons have replaced some of the site’s most important functions like Messages, Notifications, Friend Requests, etc. Icons tell users where and how you can further access different functions and engage more with the site.
  5. Icons help users navigate.Icons conveys messages in a visual way. This makes them ideal for navigating a website. It makes it easier and quicker for your users to locate information and services throughout the website. This enhances your users’ experience.
  6. Icons capture users’ attention.Sites without visual aids are boring. Appealing icons are the fastest and easiest way to catch your users’ attention. They are a way to reach out to existing and potential customers and ask them to give you a chance to elaborate your value proposition.
  7. Icons frame your site’s content.Icons can help you structure your content as well as draw clear separation between different functions, features, and services on the site.
  8. Icons can cross boundaries.Even if you have a niche value proposition, visitors and users of your sites may be more diverse. However, icons, especially widely recognized ones can easily be understood by a wide range of users.

Icons are Iconic

In a high pressure situation, you need to make decisions and act quickly. To do this, you need direction first. Which would you choose? A message that you have to read or a graphic image that conveys the same message? Of course, the graphic image. After all, this visual aid sends the message to your brain 60,000 times quicker.

An icon makes it easy for people to instantly understand a message and know what to do next. On websites, you want your users to quickly comprehend the information you want to convey. You also want your users to quickly and appropriately respond to your call to action. This is exactly why icons are important on a website.

Icons are the hieroglyphics of the 21st Century.  We cannot live without them and that is what makes them iconic.