Icons In Website Design

Icons In Website Design: How To Use Them Effectively To Captivate Consumers


We’ve all been on a website and seen a tiny illustration that visually represents a service, item or action that a brand is encouraging. Sometimes they are encased in a button, often they are accompanied by text, but regardless of the small details, one thing is for sure -- icons in website design can help businesses communicate with consumers more effectively and successfully portray a strong brand identity.

According to Nielson Norman Group, icons are only as effective as a user’s previous knowledge. This means that users must immediately be able to recognize an icon and its symbolic or metaphorical meaning and understand the message a brand is portraying through that visual. Icons are simple and clear to users and vastly differ from complicated custom illustrations.

When To Use Icons On A Website

Brands can use icons to achieve several goals on their website. These include:

  • Bettering universal communication
  • Encouraging users to take the desired action
  • Improve brand presentation and identity

As we’ve discussed, icons in web design improve communication between consumers and companies because they are globally recognized visual representations of actions and ideas. Regardless if you have accompanying text, a smartly placed icon will reinforce an important message you want to stress to your consumers, such as a key service you provide or an important point to your mission.

Icons can also draw website visitor’s attention to important details encouraging them to complete the action you want them to. Examples of these icons include shopping carts on e-commerce websites and hamburger menus that encourage users to navigate throughout your digital destination.

Finally, icons are not one-size fits all, and their overall aesthetic and small elements can be tailored to fit your brand identity. Because of their final design and the areas in which you choose to place them, they strengthen your branding through specific styles, colors, and visual messaging.

The Difference Between Icons And Logo Designs

Both logo designs and icons represent a brand in some manner. However, they differ greatly in their fundamental goals.

A logo design represents a brand, signifying its mission, services, products, core values and demographics all in one design. This logo design can include various hues, typography, copy, and serves as the core of a business’s identity, influencing all branding across every channel.

Meanwhile, an icon represents a specific item or action as opposed to a corporate entity. For example, a music note is globally recognized as a symbol for music and a simple tooth illustration represents dental hygienics.

Furthermore, icons can be used within a logo design to better communicate with consumers. Gmail’s logo is a perfect example of this in action. Their logo is based on an envelope icon, which is universally known to represent mail in many forms (and, since it’s 2018, that means email). However, they tailor this icon to their unique visual identity by adding a distinct “M” accent in a bright red that matches Google’s hue in their primary logo.

Types Of Icons

There are several types of icons that businesses can employ within their website design and beyond.

Perhaps the most obvious are social media icons. These clickable buttons are often the shape of each specific network’s logo design, and link to a brand’s accounts, making it easy for users to follow a brand on any social media channel they currently have an online presence on. They are also similar to app icons, which represent specific programs. Unsurprisingly a quick glance at your own smartphone will likely showcase a bevy of app icon examples.

Toolbar icons help users find functions within a program. These include things such as printer icons in Microsoft Word and design feature icons within programs such as Adobe Photoshop.

Menu icons help users navigate a platform. However, these small symbols can represent actions within an actual menu or access to the menu itself -- for example, the hamburger menu (three stacked horizontal lines) found on many websites that open a navigational menu for users upon clicking.

To display a more tangible item on your website, businesses will use a document icon. These signify that users will receive a “physical” item upon clicking, such as a PDF file.

In addition to these more technical icons, brands can also utilize more communicative symbols that portray specific information to visitors. These include clarifying icons, which describe functionality, purpose or a specific message to users; interactive icons, which often incorporate some form of motion graphic and often assist with web navigation; and decorative icons, whose main purpose is to drive home the brand’s identity.

How To Make Effective Icons

Outside of the obvious simple and highly communicative design, icons in website design should also utilize a certain amount of technical specifications and UX design elements to ensure they aren’t just easy to understand, but easy to use as well.

To ensure you have the most effective icons as possible on your business’s website, ensure you:

  • Make icons universal symbols that span multiple cultures.
  • Design icons that are large enough to be clicked on a desktop or with a user’s finger on mobile.
  • Space icons well so that they don’t hinder navigation, menu bars or other design elements necessary for users to complete actions on your site.


Incorporating icons within a website design is a smart way to improve user experience, better communicate your message, and elevate your overall interface. Just be sure to root each icon in a specific goal, ensure they are universally understood and match the aesthetic of your brand identity.

Ready to get started? Head to DesignRush to explore their robust list of free icons for technology, internet, business, social, people, and more!