What is an icon? Simply put, it is a symbol used to represent an idea, task or brand. To effectively pull this off, the icon has to have very specific elements in order for the viewer to easily associate the idea, task or brand with the image. At the same time, the icon cannot be overly complex. The viewer has to make the association quickly and without explanation, and many times without the help of text to further compliment the image. Easier said than done.
Using icons is not a new technique. Icons and symbols have been used throughout the ages dating back to early written languages. Today, icons are still seen everywhere. They are a part of street signs, on gauges on an automobile dashboard, application representations in computing software, images on buttons on electrical equipment and the list can go on and on. Even though styles and the look of icons have changed and evolved over that time, their basic use has not.
When operating systems moved from the world of DOS and command line prompt driven interfaces into window-based computing, there became a huge need for specialized icon development. Icons became a great way to easily assist the user in navigating through the operating system. This approach is still practiced and has become even more important with the advent of simplified operating systems on mobile devices.
Interactive Media Lab is no stranger to recognizing the importance of effective icon development. IML has worked on several graphical user interface (GUI)
projects with companies that required very specific approaches to icon creation and communication for their products. The printer manufacturing company Lexmark
, approached IML with just such a project. The task was to create icons to represent the different functions that their new printer included in its OS which incorporated an eight inch touch screen interface. IML created a set of several hundred icons, including their differing button states (up, down, etc.), to showcase the printer's abilities. The product was distributed world wide, won several awards and was even featured as part of a commercial campaign.
In some projects, IML not only developed the icon designs for a product, but also was an integral part of the user interface experience development. The software company ConnectSoft
developed a product called WiCenter
that allowed the user to control all wireless devices in one central application. IML was sought out to assist in creating the interface and icons. The design is simple, clean and helps make a complex set of tools approachable.
A recent project that is still in development is for the company I/Gear
who produces remote software solutions for manufacturing. For an upcoming trade show booth, IML is producing a video showcasing I/Gear's products and services. The approach for showcasing these services is to use icons in the brief video to quickly demonstrate what I/Gear has to offer. Again, the challenge is to communicate the service that is being represented by the icon very quickly. A challenge that IML is very well equipped to solve.
Icon design and development can be both a project in itself, or part of a larger undertaking. In any case, the design aesthetic has to communicate it's message and/or use easily to the viewer. All the while, there has to be a recognized relationship to whatever brand or larger product that the icon is part of. Consistency in branding and representation is crucial on both the larger scale and in the minute details. IML has a proven successful track record of undeniable attention to details in all the offered services, including icon development.