“A well-conceived product excels at what it does. It’s close to being functionally flawless -like a Ziploc bag, a radio from Tivoli Audio, a Philips Sonicare toothbrush, a Nespresso coffee maker or Google’s home page.” – Gary Hamel
Remember when you were but a wee lad or lass, and you just started using a computer? If you are anything like us, then one of the first things that really stuck out about the computer were the small pictures that opened up into programs when you double-clicked them. We are, of course, talking about icons.
Like little, precious jewels, icons are not only a really cool design element, but they are also an integral part of what makes computers, smartphones and tablets user friendly. We are pretty sure that if icons weren’t a thing, than we wouldn’t look twice at a computer. Which would be pretty sad, seeing as looking at computers is, basically, our job.
Designing them is no easy task, as you most likely know. Good icons can make or brake a digital product, and as a designer, you need to make your designs look, let’s not say expensive, but “not cheap”. All of that means putting as much effort into designing the little buggers, as you put into designing bigger elements.
But let’s face it, in the end, it totally is worth it: knowing that somewhere, someone is clicking and tapping your icons, and gazing in wide eyed wonder at how pretty everything is.
In light of our nostalgia trip into the world of icon design, we decided to make a list of a few cool icons and icon packs, so that you will get your doze of design inspiration. Some of the items on this list are also free, so you can also save some time on future projects, if you don’t feel like designing the icons yourself.
Flat design is definitely a trend, but it gets a bit boring looking at flat designs over and over again. That’s why the first entry on our list is a realistic design. Made by Skelet Art, this Apps+ icon looks absolutely adorable. It kind of looks like “Baby’s First Typewriter”, having only the QWERTY keys on it, and being so small and compact. If it had cheeks, we would pinch them.
2. Glyph Profiles
And now for some flat design. Here we have six icons that Sean Farrell did for Glyph. This set is an excellent example of how simple images are used to illustrate what an app does. The six apps, from left to right, are Foodie, Explorer, Gas Guzzler, Gatherer, Superstar, Shopaholic, and one of the neatest things about this set, we think, is how the light from Explorer becomes the light from Superstar.
3. SNES Controller
You can not have a proper nostalgia trip without venturing into the world of retro gaming, and nothing says retro gaming as well as the SNES does. Here we have the gaming consoles iconic controller, transposed into a realistic icon. It would do a great job as being an emulator app icon.
4. 48 Vector Icons by Sergey Schmidt
Crisp and clean is the name of the game here. Sergey Schmidt created a lovely set of 48 icons, some of which you can see in the photo above. They take a lovely minimalist approach to design, not necessarily grabbing your attention, but being easy to implement into any kind of front-end design.
5. Othercircles Icon Set
Like the set before, Othercircles is a collection of easy to adapt, minimalistic icons. Here the designs are based on round shapes, making the icons look really smooth and polished.
6. Flat Design Icons Set Vol. 1
Now for another venture into the world of flat design UI. The people over at Pixeden created this set last year, when the trend just started rearing its head. Without a doubt, this is an excellent example of how you are supposed to do flat design. Looking at it with jaded “2014 eyes”, we still really enjoy it, and we hope to see many more such designs this year.
7. 5 O’clock Shades
“The devil is in the details”, as they say, and although the saying is usually used as a warning, here we’re going to use it to point out something good. The icons seem straight-forward enough, but the little “5 o’clock shades” added to them really makes a difference, turning the icons from “plain” to “classy”.
Crisp, clean, simple, and elegant. Just as flat design should be. One things puzzles us, though: Why are sushi icons so popular in flat design?
9. 48 Free Icons by Robin Kylander
You can’t go wrong with line icons. If you are making a sober design, and need icons to go with it, always keep in mind that either thin- or thick-lined icons are an easy and elegant solution to your problems.
This is a testament to just how good realistic design can be when done properly. Marc Clancy’s “meaty” creation (it was just to out there to resist) looks absolutely gorgeous (or “goregeous”… we just can’t help ourselves).
11. Nike+ Runner iOS App Icon
iOS apps have a standard for excellence that most other operating systems can only dream to attain. Although we aren’t great fans of Nike’s designs, we have to admit that their Runner app icon looks really, really good. Our hats off to you, sirs.
12. Flat Icons from iconShock
Adding a bit of shine to design never hurt anybody. Well, that is, if you know when to stop. This massive flat icon set from iconShock knew exactly when to stop, and by adding that discreet bit of lighting and shine to their icons, made a truly stand-out set of icons.
Line icons can appear a bit “samey”, but you have to look at these with your “designer” eyes. previous line entries on our list all had a little something special. A little detail that made them different. In Budicon’s case, that little detail is the slightly rounded corners, that makes the icons a little more friendlier and, dare we say, natural.
14. Dribble Magic Book
Our second entry from Skelet Art, their Magic Book icon looks absolutely stunning, and is another great example why realistic design isn’t going anywhere. This might be a really excellent icon for a hidden object puzzle game.
Never has a more direct name been given to a design. This picture-perfect, realistic icon really does look amazing. Done with utmost care and attention to detail, the end result is a fantastic watch icon, that can be used for anything time-related.
That concludes our list of flawless and detailed icon designs. We hope we got your creative juices flowing, and that you will make your own cool-looking icon designs. Post any thoughts you might have, in our comment section below, and feel free to share any other icons you might like, as well.