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Use existing icons when available. The International Standards Organization (ISO), for example, has developed standard shapes for a variety of purposes. Always consult all relevant reference books before inventing new symbols or modifying existing ones.
Use images for nouns, not verbs.
Use traditional images.
Consider user cultural and social norms. Improper design of icons can create problems internationally. Social norms vary, so great variations exist in what is recognizable and acceptable throughout the world.
Create familiar and concrete shapes. an icon’s meaning should be self-evident. This is enhanced when concrete shapes are provided, those that look like what they are. An icon should also be intuitive or obvious, based upon a person’s preexisting knowledge.
Familiar shapes are those images that are well learned.
Create visually and conceptually distinct shapes.
Incorporate unique features of an object.
Do not display within a border.
Differentiation is aided when icons are visually different from one another. It is also aided when icons are conceptually different—that is, when they portray specific features of an object that are relatively unique within the entire set of objects to be displayed.
Clearly reflect objects represented.
Simply reflect objects represented, avoiding excessive detail. Construct icons with as few graphical components as necessary, using no more than two or three, if possible. Also, use simple, clean lines, avoiding ornamentation.
Create as a set, communicating relationships to one another through common shapes. When icons are part of an overall related set, create shapes that visually communicate these relationships. Objects within a class, for example, may possess the same overall shape but vary in their other design details,
Provide consistency in icon type.
Create shapes of the proper emotional tone.
Provide consistency in shape over varying sizes.
Do not use triangular arrows in design to avoid confusion with other system symbols.
When icons are used to reflect varying attributes, express these attributes as meaningfully as possible.
Provide proper scale and orientation.
Use perspective and dimension whenever possible.
Accompany icon with a label to assure intended meaning.
Icon Animation and Audition
—Animation can take two forms, best described as static and dynamic.
—A static icon’s appearance is unchanged over a period of time and changes only at the moment that a system event occurs. An example would be the open door of a mailbox shutting when an electronic message is received.
—A dynamic icon’s movement is independent of a system event, changing appearance to represent functions, processes, states, and state transitions. An example is an icon that begins movement to illustrate an action when a pointer is moved close to it.
o To provide feedback.
o For visual interest.
Make it interruptible or independent of user’s primary interaction.
Do not use it for decoration.
Permit it to be turned off by the user.
For fluid animation, present images at 16 or more frames per second.
Consider auditory icons.
It may be well suited to providing information:
About previous and possible interactions.
Indicating ongoing processes and modes.
Useful for navigation.
To support collaboration.
The Design Process
Define the icon’s purpose and use.
Collect, evaluate, and sketch ideas.
Draw in black and white.
Draw using an icon-editing utility or drawing package.
Test for user:
Test for legibility.
Register new icons in the system’s registry.
Follow all relevant general guidelines for screen design.
Limit the number of symbols to 12, if possible, and at most 20.
o In a meaningful way, reflecting the organization of the real world.
o To facilitate visual scanning.
Place object and action icons in different groups.
Present an interactive icon as a raised screen element.
Ensure that a selected icon is differentiable from unselected icons.
Permit arrangement of icons by the user.
Permit the user to choose between iconic and text display of objects and actions.
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