The Salcombe Web Design Blog

Welcome to the Salcombe Web Design blog. This is kept up to date by our Creative Director Daniel Ashton. Daniel is a project manager, graphic designer and website consultant.

My last blog article was a mini case study on the global brand Apple.

Metaphors in icon design

Icons are not logos, they rely on familiarity to be effective, if a clear convention already exists (like a shopping trolly for a shopping cart) then you'll need a pretty good excuse not to use it.

If a clear convention does not exist then we need to develop one. In the days before there was a common icon for RSS all manner of attempts were made, things as diverse as coffee cups and pills. Stephen Horlander created the RSS icon we know today, it was adopted by Microsoft. While the icon itself may not always convey what feeds are it has become familiar and therefore synonymous.

As an example lets see what happens when we try to develop an icon to represent window cleaning services

Mood Board

The first step in the design process of an icon is to find out if there is already an exisiting convention in terms of the visual represntation of a service or product. A great way to do this is through Google image searches, this research can then be put together on a mood board. Why not try using, it's an amzing online tool for the creation of mood boards and gives you the ability to share them.

Heres my mood board focusing on Window Cleaning

Mood Board Window Cleaning Icon

We can see from the mood board that a squeegee is a prominent descriptive metaphor related to window cleaning, but we need to consider what type of icon we are developing. Are we asking the user to carry out an action? Or are we puling them towards an object or service? In this case it is the later.

So now consider, does a squeegee imply the sale of window cleaning products, or the service of cleaning windows? We want to sell people a service, not a squeegee, so to further elaborate we can include a person and/or bucket. Although the metaphor is yet to become a familiar convention the combination of squeegee, bucket and man clearly defines the service of window cleaning, and through strict use across a company brand it could one day become synonymous with the service of window cleaning.

window cleaning icon

A great example of how an abstract icon can one day become a convention is the spread of todays RSS Icon. We'll look at that soon, but lets talk about how important it is to avoid designing icons in isolation.