When should I create my own icons from scratch?


  • Create custom icons when your brand requires a unique visual identity that off-the-shelf icons can't provide. 
  • Consider creating icons from scratch when your app's specific functionalities aren't represented by standard icons. 
  • Custom icons enhance brand consistency, improve scalability across various devices, and ensure accessibility.
  • Custom icons are not just functional but also narrative. They help tell your brand’s story and differentiate your product in competitive markets.
  • Although creating icons from scratch demands significant time and resources, the investment can substantially elevate user experience and strengthen the brand's market position.

Deep dive

Creating custom icons from scratch can be a time-consuming process, but there are several scenarios where it's the best approach:

  • Brand identity: If your app or website has a strong, unique brand identity, custom icons can help reinforce that. By designing icons that match your brand's style, colors, and personality, you create a cohesive and memorable user experience.
  • Specific functionality: When your app has features or actions that aren't adequately represented by standard icons, creating your own is necessary.  For example, a tech tool that uses specialized processes might need icons that represent these unique functions.
  • Consistency: If you're using a mix of icons from different sources, they may have inconsistent styles that can look unprofessional. By creating your own set, you ensure they all match and create a polished look. 
  • Scalability: Custom icons can be designed to scale well across different sizes and devices. This is especially important for responsive design, where icons may need to adapt to various screen sizes.
  • Accessibility: Designing your own icons allows you to consider accessibility from the start. You can ensure they have a clear visual hierarchy and sufficient contrast, and work well for users with visual impairments.

Pro tip: In competitive markets, every little detail counts. Custom icons can serve as a differentiator, making your product stand out. They can add a level of sophistication or charm that pre-designed icons might not offer.

Another pro tip: Icons are not just functional; they are also narrative. They can tell a story about your brand and its values. Custom icons designed with your brand's story in mind can enhance storytelling and make your brand more memorable.

Remember, while custom icons can offer significant benefits, they require a clear strategy and understanding of your brand’s needs and customer interactions. They also involve more time and resources compared to using pre-existing sets. Evaluate your brand’s specific requirements and the potential value custom icons could add. This will help you decide whether to invest in designing unique icons tailored to your brand's identity and user experience needs.

❓Questions designers should ask themselves

By asking the right questions, designers can question their decisions, find areas to improve, make sure nothing is overlooked, and reduce mistakes, leading to better, more thoughtful designs.

  • Does my brand have a unique identity that existing icons don't convey?
  • Are there specific functionalities in my product that standard icons don't cover?
  • Do I currently face issues with icon consistency?
  • How will the icons scale across different devices and screen sizes?
  • Can I improve accessibility with custom icons?
  • How might custom icons differentiate my product in a competitive market?
  • What narrative or story do I want my icons to convey about my brand?
  • What is the potential ROI of investing time and resources into custom icon design?
  • Do I have the necessary resources to design and implement custom icons?
  • How will these icons evolve with my brand over time?

⚠️ Common mistakes to avoid

Learning from your mistakes is important, but many problems can indeed be predicted and avoided. Based on Cieden's collective expertise, we're sharing the most common ones.

  • Overdesigning: Resist the temptation to create overly complex or detailed icons. Simplicity and clarity should be the priority.
  • Inconsistency: Ensure your icons are consistent in style, weight, and perspective. Inconsistent icons can confuse users and appear unprofessional.
  • Neglecting scalability: Design your icons to be legible and recognizable at various sizes. Test them at their smallest intended size.
  • Ignoring context: Consider how your icons will appear in different contexts, such as light vs. dark backgrounds, or next to other interface elements.

👥How to convince stakeholders

One of the most crucial skills for a designer is being able to explain and back up their ideas. If you're having a hard time convincing stakeholders, take a look at our tips to help you communicate better.

  • Improved usability: Emphasize how custom icons can improve efficiency and ease of use, leading to increased user satisfaction and productivity.
  • Enhanced brand identity: Highlight how custom icons can reinforce your brand's visual identity, increasing recognizability and differentiation in the market.
  • Long-term value: While custom icons require an upfront investment, they are a long-term asset that can scale with your product and adapt to future needs.
  • Competitive advantage: Share examples of competitors or industry leaders who effectively use custom icons to stand out and engage users.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Use user research and testing data to demonstrate the tangible impact of well-designed icons on user experience and perception.

📚 Keep exploring 

Never stop growing. Explore resources thoughtfully handpicked by Cieden’s designers.

How to design an interface icon from scratch by Natali Vdovchenko

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