As our society and economy become more globally focused, the more simplified and universal our communication needs to be. Enter the lowly 16 by 16 pixel art know as the icon—the modern hieroglyphic. Could this unassuming micro-drawing really save us all from the tedium of information overload? I believe it can and already has.
The art of an icon is to take complicated concepts or ideas and communicate them with a simple grace that any one (or most) can understand regardless of their education or spoken language. Don’t be fooled into thinking that creating these tiny jewels is an easy exercise. Making an icon is the skill of taking away everything until the core thought remains. Take away too much and it will make no sense at all.
I have become increasingly aware of the icons that pass before my eyes on a daily basis. I see them every day in the programs I use, on the games I play, and on the TV shows I watch. Not only do I enjoy the beauty of their simplicity and design, but without them, I’d be lost in a sea of data. Smart phones and tablets (and the myriad of apps that fill the screens of these devices), have done the most to make the icon a necessity. Imagine a world without those little guys; your app pages would be filled with overlapping words all competing for your attention…very messy.
I encourage you to check out the Noun Project, a site committed to “sharing, celebrating and enhancing the world's visual language." It’s basically a repository for icons and symbols. According to the site:
"With America being in the midst of a fast-paced demographic shift, and US census showing growing diversity, the government has a new challenge of quickly and efficiently communicating its services to a constantly evolving constituent base made of different cultures, ages, religions, and languages. Symbols serve as an integral part of overcoming this communication barrier, and are already widely used throughout various public spaces to represent objects and ideas within education, health care, transportation, and recreation."
The icon represents the way modern design is changing. As designers, we have to become more aware that everything we do will no longer be bound by locality. Instead, it will ultimately span the globe and be viewed on a much larger spectrum. Simple and clear communication of the design intent will be paramount.
Image created by Kevin Ditto