24 Icon Design Tips

Top designers share their techniques for creating eye-catching and meaningful icons and badges.


Planning is a key part of designing any icon or illustration for me. Even if they are very quick, rough drawings, they are invaluable in getting a strong visual concept down before I start designing in Illustrator.

Sam Peet (UK)

Sam Peet

To create icons that are functional and immediately identifiable, I generally turn to visual cliché. This is a really good starting point for me which I can then build upon and put my own style and technique to make it a more original piece.

Sam Peet (UK)


I recommend using Adobe Illustrator for iconography as it really is the best tool for the job. It’s simple to control line weights and create exact work with guides and grids.

Sam Peet (UK)

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For drawing, I stick to one line weight which creates continuity between the set.

Sam Peet (UK)


Curves are quick to create with Adobe Illustrator CC. You can draw three straight lines with the Pen tool and select the to end anchors with the Direct Select tool (A). You will see circles appear on each point you have selected. If you hold Shift and drag inwards you will create a perfect curve

This much quicker than my previous method of having to use the Ellipse tool, then remove paths then join points to get that perfect curve.

Sam Peet (UK)


Caoi Orio

An eye-catching icon for me must be simple and respect geometric logic. It is almost like designing a logo.

First define the language: is it funny? Is it sober? What’s the size it is going to be displayed? These answers will assist you in the following steps.

Caio Orio (BR) 

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Choose between line and shapes, the size of the stroke, rounded or pointed corners, color palette, define a grid if necessary.

Caio Orio (BR) 


In my personal process I use basic geometric shapes and always try to synthesize and idea or an object.

Caio Orio (BR) 


Be careful about mixing language. If you start drawing a 'family' of icons, all of them must respect the same rules. For example, if you’re drawing something flat, stay flat and don’t add any perspective or 3D interpretations of objects.

Caio Orio (BR) 

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To create a memorable and functional icon, the first thing that you have to aim for is to make it immediately recognisable and identifiable at a glance. Do this by working on the most typical characteristics of the object.

Building upon an interesting and clear metaphor of the icon is always helpful; however you also need to keep in mind the cultural differences in understanding of the said icon, depending on the range of usage.

Zeynep Kinli (TR)


When working on an icon, it’s always good to start your journey by sketching out your ideas on paper. Let your mind go wild and don’t be so picky during this process, you can select the strongest outcome later on.

Zeynep Kinli (TR)


Using a vector-based program like Illustrator or Affinity Designer to draw your icons as vector graphics is a good opportunity since it will help you to resize your icon without losing quality.

Open up a square grid and make sure your icons are consistent in proportions and negative space overall. Work in monochrome and at a tiny scale, this will secure your success up to a point when you move on to coloured versions and larger scales.

Zeynep Kinli (TR)

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If you prefer to work with geometric shapes rather than drawing freehand, the Pathfinder tool in Adobe Illustrator is really helps you to form more complex shapes out of simple ones.. Experiment with its different functions such as combine, intersect, minus-front until you have a full understanding of how it works. 

Zeynep Kinli (TR)


They say 'less is more', I'd argue that 'more can be more'. More detail can add to the overall effect, making something extra special. For example, a large icon or badge could be very intricate and colourful, adding personality to the page.

However, some icons need to be very functional, or have a limited size . For these clarity is the most important aspect.

Oli Lisher (UK)


Retaining a high level of consistency within a set of icons is the biggest challenge. Making sure that you stick to some basic rules around things like stroke widths, corner radii and spacing. The icons need to be able to work together as a set, sometimes it's about removing elements that don't need to be in there, for the greater good of the set as a whole. 

Oli Lisher (UK)

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I start by drawing basic ideas out on paper and share them with my clients to make sure that the content of the icon is correct, that the right message is being achieved.

I then use Adobe Illustrator to create final icons. I use a combination of simple shapes - rectangles, ovals and the like - and the Pen tool to work up ideas loosely based on my sketches.

Oli Lisher (UK)


Be prepared to not use your first version, to make multiple attempts of the same illustration. I find it's a process of trial and error, it often doesn't look good on the first pass and that's fine! Sometimes refinement, sometimes extra detail make all the difference.

Oli Lisher (UK)


Colour is also important. A palette of two to five colours that work together will often spark something extra special.

However. try not to think about colour at the start. Create all of your assets and come back to colour choices later. This can help separate the two aspects, leaving you to concentrate on shape and form before experimenting with colour palettes.

Oli Lisher (UK)

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When drawing icons and badges you should always consider final size they will be displayed at, likely it will be in a relatively small space. Drawing with simple geometric shapes is a good way to make sure that your designs will hold up at smaller sizes.

Dominic Flask (USA)


To draw more complex shapes with just circles and squares, get to know Illustrator's Pathfinder palette extremely well so you can unite, intersect, and divide your way to finished designs.

Dominic Flask (USA)


Sketching and experimentation are an important part of every design process and that is true for badge design as well. Experimenting with compositions, styles, colors and content will lead you in a better direction than sitting down and trying to solve the problem immediately. When I get to a place that I'm mostly happy with something I'll often try something totally different, just to see what I learn from a new direction.

Dominic Flask (USA)

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Always be conscious of the final context in which the icon will be viewed, what surrounds it, where does it sit, how will it be viewed?

Dominic Flask (USA)


Understanding the space that directly surrounds the icon is just as important as the positive shape of the icon itself, the space needs to hold the icon appropriately balanced in its place.

Dominic Flask (USA)