Something about icons makes them so elementary yet exacting at the same time, and that is a notion that I've had difficulty grasping in the past. Whenever a project I'm working on calls for these small nuggets of information, the designers I manage usually elicit a small groan before slumping back to their desks for an afternoon of brainstorming. And I never understood why, because it's just a picture right? Compared to whole websites or branding strategies, how hard can a 40x40 pixel drawing be?
But then I really start to think about how much an icon has to represent by itself without any other supporting feature behind it, and the careful analysis and attention that must be paid in order to prevent the viewer from misunderstanding what it stands for. There are restrictions about what it can look like, what size it needs to be, how complicated it should be, how simple it should be, etc. Suddenly, it's not so easy after all. On the contrary, these boundaries generate an expotentially claustrophobic situation that would make any head spin.
I find myself having a newfound appreciation now for icons that are done well. Lotta Nieminen's identity work for Feyt alongside RoAndCo is extraordinary in its ability to speak volumes about what the website does without overcrowding the page. The design process might have been trying, but you wouldn't guess. Thanks to a couple key images navigating my way, I will never get lost.