Designing great app icons isn’t a solo endeavour on the part of a designer. Icons require careful feedback and consultation between clients and designers at each stage of development in order to ensure the final product is as good as it can be.

Let’s start by talking about the idea of a ‘final’ product. Obviously, the design that is eventually used to accompany a product is its final iteration, but the idea of a product ever being completely finished obscures the important process of dialogue that must go on among designers and between them and their clients.

If we consider that process of dialogue as being integral to the process in which icons, or any other graphic design product for that matter, are formulated, a very different idea of a final product emerges. We have, on the one hand, a proposed design solution being presented by a designer, and on the other, we have a client who is trying to negotiate that solution’s place within a marketable product. The design itself will remain in flux until the two parties arrive at a mutually agreed ‘most finished’ product, rather than a categorically ‘finished’ design. In other words, design becomes a discursive process of discussion, consultation, and drafting, rather than a means to an end. You can only ‘agree’ a product – not ‘finish’ it.

Icon design process

Accepting that conclusion, we arrive at another one – improving and streamlining the consultation and review process between designers and clients is integral to improving the outcome of a design when it eventually becomes part of a marketable product. Good graphic designers not only need to be exceptionally talented technically – they also need to have a mindset geared towards communication and discourse. To make your icons better, you need to make your personal availability and accessibility to the design process crystal clear to a client. The ‘packaging’, if you can call it that, becomes as important as the product.

You don’t want to fall into the trap of endless back-and-forth email threads, but you also want to avoid handing clients drafts that they simply do not like and have had no say in creating. Many clients are also hands-off when it comes to the actual design process – that’s why they’re outsourcing the design – so how you give them access to reviewing your drafts needs to be straightforward and geared towards review and feedback, rather than interference in the process itself. It’s time to “engage the integrated design process”, as advocated by Whole Building Design Guide.

The solution we like to use involves an online review space, the ‘Icon Manager’ where the latest draft of an icon is immediately uploaded as soon as we finish it. Clients can access the software wherever and whenever they want to see how far along the project is and provide instant feedback in real time to the designer. The software creates a professional boundary between those doing the design work and the client by placing the designs, rather than the designer’s process, at the centre of the interaction. It’s by no means the only solution to the issue of ‘packaging’, but we think it frees up both parties to focus on their task at hand by removing that direct access to the design which can bog designers and organisations down in endless email exchanges.

It’s important to think about the visuals of any icon design, but it’s also just as important to plan and develop a strategy for presenting drafts to clients and moving things swiftly along from brief to market. How are you going to ensure they can have the maximum input necessary into a design while giving yourself the space to get the job done as creatively and efficiently as possible? Process-oriented thinking holds the key.

[Photo by blickpixel]

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Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

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