Al Gore at Web 2.0 conference

Icons have become an essential element of modern web design and have to be both functional and visually appealing. Web 2.0 has given rise to an increasing number and different variants of icons. The more Web 2.0 websites, applications and platforms that appear, the greater the need for icons.

Although it is tempting to litter our sites with a myriad of icons, designers have learned to use them sparingly. Today, we use fewer and better icons, which carry more meaning, and those in question are usually to do with social networking and web interaction.


The need for social networking icons

The social networking aspect of Web 2.0 has created the need for a totally new set of icons for our websites. Almost every site will now have an icon linking them to a Facebook group or Twitter feed. Others to join this set of icons are Flickr, Stumbleupon, Digg,, Reddit, LinkedIn, Technorati and RSS feeds. Each one of them has established itself in the Web 2.0 world to such an extent, that words are no longer needed, and their distinguishing icons alone will suffice in conveying the function to users.

This has meant, however, that the links sections of websites run the risk of becoming standardised clones of each other. If every website has the same Twitter icon in the same corner of the web page, it is all going to get a bit repetitive, where users eventually become immune to them. Whilst people want to use standardised icons that are easily recognisable (you wouldn’t mess with the standard design and function of Britain’s road signs would you?) websites are increasingly recognising the demand for adapting these icons to suit the theme of their business or company.


Adapting well-known icons to suit the personality of your site

Take the well-known Twitter icon for instance – the letter ‘T’ in the distinct Twitter font, or now the blue bird logo. When done professionally, often by icon designers, the Twitter bird can be adapted to suit a website’s image without messing about too much with the message (i.e. click on this icon to be directed to our Tweets).

If the bright blue colour of the bird doesn’t quite go with the colour scheme or theme of your website, then you could assume it is safe to alter the colour and people will still recognise it as a Twitter link (unless you’re a bird-related website, because that might get a tad confusing!).


How do your icons reflect your business?

You may want designers to assist with adding drop shadows, gradients or reflections to the icon to give a tactile and aesthetic quality of elements in the real world, or to give a three-dimensional feel. Likewise you may want to have the Twitter bird listening to music, if you’re a pop website for instance, or you may want an image of the twitter bird on a cupcake, if you are a company that specialises in celebration cakes.

With the vast amount of information that is now available on the internet, each website is competing for the attention of web users, who have a lower concentration span when reading websites than when reading something on paper. This means that fewer words are used and are now replaced with well-known icons.

But providing that the meaning or function of the icon is not tampered with, Web 2.0 has opened up the possibility for designers to express the ideas of your company. Whether it is simplicity you want, or cute and quirky, designers can now develop new icon sets to suit your site, creating a bold, distinguished and bespoke application for web users to interact with, and on which they can share and exchange information.

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