Icons: Style is Substance

The Cambridge online Dictionary of English defines an icon as a “small picture or symbol on a computer that you point to and click… with a mouse to give the computer an instruction.”

That may be the operational definition of an icon, but as we explained in the previous article, an icon is much more than a shortcut to a computer instruction.

We now understand that well designed icons enhance the learning experience by contextualising the topics, making the program easier to navigate, associating the material with a picture, and providing the learner an instantly recognised visual shortcut.

Perfect examples: The stop sign or traffic light.   We know what both mean the minute we see them.

There are plenty of design options to choose from when selecting an icon.

Flat icons are now used on mobile devices instead of icons that mimic physical objects. The reason:  they are flexible and can be used to supplement graphics.  A stock market symbol would be an example of a flat icon that depicts a graph, usually with a jagged up arrow.

The flat icon with a shadow adds a bit more pizzazz to the basic approach illustrated by the flat icon.

The line icon is perhaps the simplest icon, which is the outline of a symbol without shadings.

Hand drawn icons are the most time consuming to produce if done from scratch.   But they are also the most detailed.

Other icon types include folded corner icons and filled icons.

Whichever icon you choose for your learning experience, you have a wealth of opportunities to use them.

Icons can be used as part of explanations and be part of a text box. Or they can be used in information graphics or in learning games.

Icons are also useful as bullets on lists or as navigation buttons in elearning classes.

Not a simple matter, but icons, when used with a bit of forethought, can make all the difference in a stimulating learning experience, and one that is frustrating, two dimensional and commonplace.

If you want original icons you should consider investing in a visual designer whose speciality is graphic design.  There are plenty of options to choose from.  There are plenty of free icons to download on the web.