The Key to Making a Good Icon Set

Awesome icon set example

This week I listened to an awesome interview by Kyle Adams, a famous icon designer, giving tips on why he is so successful with icon design. Some of his tips really resonated with me.

The main points I enjoyed were that before you even begin designing an icon you need to consider what the goals are behind the icons and then you need to think about who the audience is as well. Answering both of those questions will really improve the look and feel of your icons, and improve your overall design of the icons.

It was also discussed that there are a lot of established icons already and there needs to be a reason to change what is already established. A lot of times icons will be very similar, but they will have their own style on it depending on the target audience and what the goal is behind the icons. Designers can still put their own twist and style on already established icons, and get creative by setting their own set of rules to help keep the icons with continuity. These rules will vary and are established based on the goals and audience of the icon sets.

This educational icon set (below) uses already established icon designs, but uses different design principles and colors to create a new take on them.

Awesome icon set example


Contrast is one of the strongest design principles and it is used in a lot of ways with these icons. First, there is contrast between the background shape and the light art board the icons are placed on to help emphasize the icons themselves. There is also contrast with the shadows in the the icons. The extreme light and dark portions of the design contrast well against, as well as the red and green contrasting color choices.


Having repetitive design elements unify the overall design set. In this case, there are several repetitive elements for these icons. First, they are all placed within a circle shape. Secondly, they all have curved edges, even on the elements that are rectangular or square in shape. Another repetitive element is the distinctive diagonal shadows coming off all the icons. All of these ‘rules’ that are repeated really unify the design and help them look professional.

Color Scheme

The color scheme of these icons unify the design as well. The same few colors are repeated throughout the various icons and are another set rule this designer chose to use. The main color choices are green, blue-green, yellow, yellow-orange and red-orange. The colors are a mix between warm and cool colors, and they work well to bring in color contrast and interest. All the colors are in multiple icon selections, and the scheme really improves the unity of the design.

Having these design principles in mind can really elevate an icon set design. But more importantly, having a goal in mind when designing icons is the key to creating well designed icons that will be perfect for your client.


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