How To Use Icons To Connect And Communicate With Your Website Visitors

How To Use Icons To Connect And Communicate With Your Website Visitors

Humans have always used visuals to communicate and connect. From prehistoric cave paintings to ancient Egyptian pictographs to the emojis we prolifically use today, icons are everywhere. It’s no surprise that they play a significant role in web design. The importance of visual design in creating a successful web presence is indisputable. After all, an icon is much quicker at communicating a message than text. Visuals help consumers make decisions and play an important role in helping to define your brand. If you're interested in using beautifully designed icons to connect and communicate with your web visitors, here are a few tips on how to do it successfully:

How to Use Icons on Your Website

Draw Attention to High-Value Elements

Because people process visuals more quickly than they do text, icons are a great way to draw attention to high-value elements. Research done using optimal workshops have highlighted the benefits of using icons to grab user’s attention and keep visitors engaged.

You can use icons in combination with user experience (UX design) to highlight special offers like discounts or free shipping. Icons are also often used to make your call to action (CTA) buttons stand out, especially if your goal is to generate enquiries or customer calls.

Aid in Site Navigation

Icons can also be a powerful tool for helping your website visitors find their way around your site. Here are some ways to use icons to make website navigation easier and more intuitive:

  • Exchange a "My Account" clickable button with a graphic representing a person.
  • Replace a "Shopping Cart" link with a symbol, as done here on the Gili Sports homepage.
  • Instead of using a "Menu" button, you can go with the all-around accepted hamburger icon to encourage users to explore different pages on your site.

Any of these options will make your site more intuitive for users. It also helps with accessibility - the icons work regardless of your user’s preferred device or native language. 

Save Space

Icons will also help you save screen space. A picture is worth a thousand words - or at least a picture can be a better way of communicating complex ideas than simply using text. Using icons to communicate messages can also help you stick to the principles of web design that call for negative space - ie: not too much clutter on the screen. White space will allow for each element on your pages to stand out and get the attention it deserves.

Make Your Language More Accessible

If your brand caters to a niche audience you can afford to use some technical language. Most brands don't have that luxury. The average consumer doesn't measure phone battery life in mAh, website success in KPIs, or computer screen brightness in nits. Instead, they want easy-to-understand information that tells them what they want to know in a non-technical way. Icons can be a big help in achieving this. 

This site belonging to a company called Aura is a good example. They use icons to address complex ideas like machine learning or strategy customisation. Instead of going into lots of detail about the technology behind the features, Aura utilizes pictographs. This helps make these concepts much easier to recognise and understand.

Increase Content Readability

Lastly, if you want to use icons on your website but don’t want to make them an integral part of the overall design, you can just use them to increase readability. For example, instead of using standard bullet points (which are good for boosting readability), you could choose to format your content with ticks or checkmarks. Or, simply use icons to enrich your social media captions, using already widely-recognised visuals to communicate more clearly.

Icon Design Tips

So, icons are good communication tools. But what makes a good icon? Well, the main characteristic of a well-designed icon is that it is simple. A well-designed icon should:

  • Be easy to understand by anyone in the world, regardless of the language they speak.
  • Use a suitable colour (or colour palette) with sufficient contrast to be easily discernible from the background and surrounding visual elements.
  • Be appropriately scaled for visibility, ideally used in a vector format that displays equally well on different sized screens.
  • Take common web browsing behaviour, like user reading patterns, into consideration to dictate placement on the page.
  • Be consistently used throughout your website.
  • Match your brand's visual identity.
  • NOT lead to miscommunication.

Final Thoughts

Using icons on your website is good for communication and helps promote visitor engagement. They can also be a useful user-experience (UX) tool to direct user attention or help with calls to action. They need to be carefully chosen and contribute to the overall customer experience ie: to make navigation easier. 

Anyone designing or implementing icons should be well-acquainted with the basic principles of design and have a strong understanding of your brand's visual identity. If you can say yes to both of these, you'll be sure to find solutions that improve your website and enhance the user experience of your site visitors. Your customers will thank you for that.

by Travis Jamison | 25 Jan 22

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