This article was ghostwritten for Gnu World Media. It is written in British English.
Most websites these days incorporate some form of iconography, even if it’s just for the social media links. From a user experience (UX) point of view, it’s easy to see why.
If you were given the choice to view a website that was just big blocks of text or one that used imagery or graphics, you would definitely choose the latter. The reason for this is quite simple. Large chunks of text are off-putting to users and lead to higher bounce rates, while photos or graphics draw the users’ interest and, if done right, retain it.
Who would want to wade through a couple of paragraphs of text if the same information could be conveyed with a few well-placed icons? Here are a few of the more compelling reasons to get your digital iconography on.
Icons tell the eye where to go next
Humans are simple creatures. We like pretty things. A well-designed icon will automatically draw our eye because it’s aesthetically appealing. Or at the very least, more appealing than a chunk of copy, no matter what font you use.
This has the obvious benefit of sending your user’s eye to the content you want to highlight. Imagine for a moment that you want your users to click on a special offer. Just writing the words special offer will get the point across but is easily lost amongst the other text. So you make it a button, or a different colour, or even a banner. All of these things draw the eye specifically to that content before anything else. It’s the same with icons.
Icons support good user experience
Users become accustomed to things looking a certain way. For this reason, icons tend to look the same, depending on their function. Street signs are an excellent example of this. We all know what a no entry sign looks like and, more importantly, we know what it means. Now imagine someone decided to redesign the no entry sign. Might lead to more than a few head on collisions.
Easily recognisable icons are the same as street signs. They quickly and easily tell us what we’re looking at and what to do next. That little envelope icon? It’s a sure bet that it means I can send an email to get more info. That icon that looks like a handset? That’s got to be the phone number. The more your users get accustomed to something looking a certain way and being in a certain place, the easier it is to quickly and effectively plant an idea in their head visually.
Icons help simplify your user interface
Copy has its place, not least of which its vital role in SEO, but no one wants to wade through big chunks of text to get the info they need. Nor does it help your user interface to have a text heavy layout. Websites these days tend to be simple and to the point. Users need to land on a page and get the info they need within seconds, otherwise, they’re out of there.
Icons can help illustrate what you offer at a glance. A short paragraph about a service you offer can be replaced with a simple illustration and perhaps a single line of text instead (or even no text if you’re lucky).
What not to do with your icons
Of course, as marvellous as icons can be for your website, they can have the opposite effect if used incorrectly. The easiest way to make icons problematic is to over use them. Eliminating all your text in favour of icons will not only mess with your SEO, it will be confusing and messy from a UX point of view. A website full of only icons is just as bad as one full of only copy.
Another iconography no-no is using overly complex icons. Anything that looks like it might be at home in the presence of clipart is to be shunned. If your user has to try and figure out what an icon is meant to represent then your symbolism has failed. While more organic looking iconography has its place (in logos for example), when you’re trying to convey a clear message, simple lines with flat colours are best and if you can incorporate your brand colours, even better.
Easily recognisable and understandable iconography is one of the easiest visual ways to improve the user experience of your website. Icons help eliminate the frustrations that often stem from your visitors not being able to find the information they need by acting as a digital version of street signs.
At Gnu World, we help companies promote their brands through effective online marketing. Contact us today to discuss how we can help your brand grow.