Lately there’s been a lot of talk of how the ‘flat icon’ has come to dominate interface design across all different platforms. The flat icon trend can be seen as a conscious effort by developers to return to basics when it comes to design. Of course, the ideal icon is one that explains its function immediately in a clear, understandable way. It comes as no surprise then, that developers are increasingly opting for minimalist simplicity at a time when consumer technology is reaching a much broader audience.

Flat Icon Design

Examples of iOS7 App Icon Flat Icon Style

As user interfaces become more based on ease-of-use, it’s important to explore other means of navigation in the place of visual complexity. One way that this is being done is through the use of bright, consistent colour schemes. Basic symbols that can be found anywhere in popular culture can be used to easily designate function, with colours enabling easy categorisation by the user. This is important because software, particularly with operating systems on phones and computers, is increasingly being designed with animated touch-screen interfaces in mind.

It’s therefore vital to build icons that are simple enough to ensure that very complex interfaces remain comprehensible to end users. We may be working with more dynamic and exciting interfaces than before, but now more than ever, icons remain the forefront of design. Simplicity is now key to reaching a large audience, which is why many icon designs we see now are far less abstract than those of, say, a few years ago.

The future of icon design

With flat icons dominating the software interfaces we currently interact with, it’s interesting to think about the future of icon design. Flat design is dominant in the technology we use right now, to the point where the user-software interaction is becoming seamless across different platforms and interfaces. The way icons are designed has become almost homogeneous across different interfaces and websites. This means that for users, the barriers they once faced when switching between, say, a Microsoft device and an Apple one have almost faded. Our work as icon designers is, of course, integral to this.

This is not to say that the future of icons is one of similarity – where all platforms use the same icons in order to appeal to all users. Far from it. In order to make sure your website, your software or even your app remains relevant, it must stand out from the crowd. Innovation is therefore still hugely important when it comes to the future of icon design. This is perhaps why it’s good to think about icons that use a specific brand logo, rather than icons that rely purely on functional symbols such as ‘camera’ or ‘calendar’.

In order to make sure your website, your software or even your app remains relevant, it must stand out from the crowd.

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Incorporating brand into icon

Think of the Twitter logo used on their app icon, or the simple letter ‘V’ on the Vine app. We know what these symbols mean without the aid of text or a description. They therefore represent not only incredibly effective brand marketing, but fantastic icon design. Designers are able to move with the times by working within one framework or another, be it 3D-style icons or flat icons. But by building awareness of your platform or your software through effectively incorporating ‘brand’ into ‘icon’, you are able to stay one step ahead of the crowd. We might start to see a move away from purely functional symbology within icon design, towards a future where brand logos are much more dominant. In fact, we are already seeing the beginning of this.

Icon design is just as important for marketing your product or your brand as any other form of advertising. This again opens up limitless possibilities for design work, and is perhaps where the seed of innovation lies. Flat icons are popular right now, but it’s still important for us to keep innovating and developing new dynamic designs. Incorporating brand logos into our work is just one avenue we can look to in the immediate future.

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