Computer Arts (June 2004)

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For example, all the images must be in the same place on each icon. This goes for type and colours too. Beware of using abstract images, as they often mean different things to different people. To help your viewer clearly identify with the concepts or objects, go for simple, symbolic representations, making sure a definite style is carried throughout. You’ll give the viewer unconscious visual reference points which connect your icons to your audience. An example of this is found in road signage.

Our perception has always been connected to colour and colour has long been used to emphasize, warn off and express ideas to our subconscious. In nature for instance, a spider’s shape maybe an instantly recognisable icon but not enough to warn us off. Coupled with a brightly coloured pattern on its legs, however, we may think again about approaching it. With the inclusion of colour there is an extra reinforcement of the message and used correctly, colours can hugely enhance an icon’s recognition.

Above all, force yourself to think of any word as a pictorial element. The word should be short, and the reader should know exactly what it means. Avoid words with double meanings that can be read in two ways, for example the road sign ‘Slow Children’. Look at washing instruction labels and you'll see the washing machine drum as a circle and temperature the garment should be washed at inside it as a simple number, for example 30 or 60. This connection between the physical and instructional is very simple and effective.

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