An icon is worth a thousand words
“Edit unnecessary things.”
Three simple words that hold more relevance today than ever. If you think about it, this principle can be applied to almost anything. With minimalism at the forefront, it has become customary to eliminate the frills and retain the essentials. When I say ‘Design is everywhere’, I’m not just being profound. We live in a world where we are engulfed in more design than we can register. Each day, a plethora of information is fed to us, only a fraction of which we actually recall. Thus, it becomes essential to choose brevity over fanciness and visual design exemplifies this through icons.
We’ve all visited a public restroom at some point in our lives. How do we know which door to enter? Simple – because of the signs on the doors - the universally accepted symbols of “male” and “female”. We look at them, identify the relevance in under 2 seconds and move along. Does it take more than the blink of an eye to decode them? Does the viewer have to be literate to recognize the symbols? Is any prior knowledge required to find their meaning? No, and that’s what makes them a perfect example of effective design.
Symbols have been a part of the human culture ever since man began drawing on walls. They served as a primitive form of communication back when no spoken language had been invented. As we progressed, so did the way we communicate and the spoken word came into being. Today, even though we’re capable of forming complete sentences rife with emotion, funnily enough, we find ourselves reverting back to the age of symbols to make our content as clutter-free as possible.
Once we know a language, it becomes impossible not to read it when we’re shown a word. But what do we do when visiting a foreign land where the language is alien to us? Can we still find a way to survive? Yes, by relying on icons, signs and symbols that have an incredible way of interacting with the human subconscious. Unlike languages that are primarily regional, icons, if designed well, go beyond borders to develop global fluency.
Today, every brand is trying to cram as much information as possible into a single screen. As our attention spans drop, so does the recall value of the brand. Time no longer translates to money, space does. Thus, icons mean more today than they did 10 years ago. They act as communication capsules, overflowing with meaning and adding relevance wherever necessary. Believe it or not, icons truly are the backbone of modern communication. How do I know this? Because there is a world of difference between my mother’s -