Icon Library

What makes a good icon, and how can I design my own?
BadgesCognitive LoadVisual Learning DesignWebsitesIconsFontBullet PointsFont LibraryFree LibrariesInfographicsLogosVisualLow Cognitive Load


An icon is a simplified graphic or symbol that represents something to your learner, such as an action, idea, or entity. Icons are useful for conveying meaning to your learner quickly with low cognitive load. For instance, using a right arrow to guide your learner to the next page of a book is simpler, less-distracting, and faster than showing a button that says "Go on to next page." As such, icons are simple, stylized representations of something you want your learner to do or to understand, and most visual learning design projects, like apps, websites, or infographics, will use icons extensively.

icons should value comprehension, then retention, then appealIn terms of ARC, icons must first-and-foremost be readily discernible for what they are, meaning that comprehension is paramount, followed by retention and then appeal. This means that you should make choices in your design that favor simplicity, recognizability, and conformity to intuition and norms over novelty, detail, or complexity.

Any visual learning design project is much simpler if you start with a library of pre-existing components, such as icons, fonts, buttons, and badges, and there are many free libraries of resources online that can help you. Icons are particularly helpful, because they can be used for a variety of purposes, such as buttons, graphics, logos, and bullet points, and because the meanings of many icons have become almost universal (e.g., a right-pointing arrow means "next," an "X" means "cancel" or "delete," and three horizontal lines means "menu"). You can find great examples of many of these common icons in existing free libraries, such as Font Awesome and Feather Icons.

However, no font library will have all of the icons you will need for every project. Also, icon sets have different themes; so, even if you find a "right arrow" icon that someone else made, it may not match the other icons you are using in your project. For these reasons, it's important to learn how to make simple icons.


Create your own, original library of icons using Adobe Illustrator or another program.



Tutorial Videos

7 Rules for Icon Design

Watch on YouTube

How to Draw Icons Using a Grid

Watch on YouTube

Evaluation Criteria

  Unsatisfactory Basic Competent Professional
Creativity Icons use only pre-existing shapes (e.g., circles, squares, arrows, octagons) or reflect little originality. At least 5 icons utilize complex, combined, or original shapes. At least 10 icons utilize complex, combined, or original shapes. At least 15 icons utilize complex, combined, or original shapes.
Theme The library does not have a discernible theme or lacks continuity between icons. The library has a discernible theme … … with stylistic continuity between icons …  … and appropriate visuals for the theme.
Memorability Icons do not appeal to intuitive or common constructs. Visuals appeal to intuitive or common constructs … … by following norms of anticipated meaning … … and effectively generating new meaning as appropriate.
Recognizability Icons are not recognizable for what they are intended to represent. Icons are discernible for what they are intended to represent … … and are unique … … and instantly recognizable.

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