Iconography and symbols in our everyday lives

Iconography and symbols in our everyday lives

Iconography and symbols are everywhere you look.

Chances are you clicked on an icon while on your way to reading this post.

Perhaps it was the multi-colored circle which opened your Chrome browser, or the fox and the blue globe for Firefox (and hopefully not that dreadful blue 'e').

Consider this – how much time did it take you to understand what that icon represents?

Now, compare that with how much time it's taken you to read to this point and comprehend the meaning and intent of the words?

Iconography and symbols are rooted deeply into society and how humans operate.

A simple image has the ability to express complex ideas, communicate messages, and even bridge cultural barriers.

In this post, we'll discuss how and why images hold so much power over us, and how you can use this to your improve your branding and website.

Cognitive Thinking

How the brain works

About 90 percent of the information processed by the human brain is visual.

Furthermore, the human brain processes an image 60,000 times faster than it does text.

Humans are visual by nature, as such, incorporating more visual data into your marketing or branding strategy can be a highly effective tool.

In terms of website content, consider creating more infographics to convey your message. If your content is heavy.

If your content is heavy on text, try making it more scannable by using more lists and bullet points.

From a design standpoint, keep it simple and don't overcomplicate the message with too much "noise."

Icons And Symbols

Iconography and symbols

The word iconography comes from the Greek words for "image" and "to write."

It's defined as "symbolic representation, especially the conventional meanings attached to an image or images."

The term also refers to an entire branch of art history dedicated to the "identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images."

So what does all that mean?

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Why? Because pictures were being used to communicate long before language was even invented.

Traffic Light

Conveying meaning

But in the modern era, symbols allow for the proper and healthy functioning of a chaotic society by condensing complex messages into simple images.

A red traffic light, for example, warns of oncoming traffic and potential danger.

Icons and symbols are so common place, we often don't think twice about what we see.

But the most effective iconography and symbols are always simple and recognizable.

To communicate a huge idea with a clear message, consider utilizing a vector image to help users visualize and digest information quickly.


Practical uses

There's no way to stress the importance of good design for branding purposes.

Your brand symbol becomes synonymous with what you do, for better or for worse.

When designing iconography and symbols, it's important to consider the following elements:

  • Emphasis 
  • Unity 
  • Balance 
  • Contrast 
  • Rhythm and movement

For marketing purposes, consider how you want the viewer to respond to your design choices. What feelings and what messages are you trying to evoke in them?

In regards to, in-house style, consider simplification rather than trying anything fancy. Some of the most widely known (and most successful) brands have simple yet elegant symbols which are instantly recognizable.

As such, the power of a strong brand symbol can't be emphasized enough.

Fibonacci Spiral
The Fibonacci sequence is found throughout nature.

Design tips

The most fundamental elements of design all come from the same source – nature.

Symmetry is found everywhere in nature, and it should be found in the elements of your graphic design, too.

If you're not sure where to begin, start with zero. Then move on to one. Add the two together and you get one again. Add those two ones together and get two. Add one and two together for three (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13... and so forth).

Continue this process and you'll discover what's known as the Fibonacci sequence which is "characterized by the fact that every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones."

This repeating pattern is found throughout nature and is often depicted as what's known as the "golden spiral."

Consider using this naturally occurring patterns in your design strategy to improve upon the design elements listed above.

Another widely used convention is what's known as the "rule of thirds."

When composing iconography and symbols, use the rule of thirds to divide an image into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines.

The most important elements of the composition should be placed within these lines or where they intersect.

From there, utilize color and negative space to give the image balance.

Utilizing fundamental elements of design such as these is a sure way to create visually striking yet elegant images.

Photo by c.e.b., Flickr.

Down the rabbit hole

Taking a turn away from the practical, iconography and symbols are an inherent part of the metaphysical (depending on your beliefs).

Symbolism in theology (as studied in the camp of iconography) has been examined extensively throughout human history.

Dating back to the ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and their hieroglyphics, to the iconography seen in Da Vinci's last supper, symbols are often viewed as the manifestations of the spiritual realm.

Sometimes this symbolism encroaches upon daily life in literal and metaphorical ways.

However, this belief system is highly contingent on how one perceives their own reality.

Remember, 90 percent of the information the human brain processes is visual. Our waking lives are spent eyes open, but what are we actually looking at?

Is it the street sign telling you to stop? Or is it the clock which reads 11:11?

Information can't be constrained to the confines of a single meaning, but we as humans possess unique capabilities in how we process and implement the information we do receive.

Sometimes it's conscious, other times it's not.

While your belief system might differ from other's, you have the ability to come to your own conclusions.

Just don't forget to examine the visual information presented before you.


Iconography and symbols permeate nearly every aspect of life.

By incorporating fundamental elements of design into your design strategy, you will be better able to communicate large and complex ideas simply and effectively.

Using visual information to enhance your website design and brand might be the next big trend.

Vector icons a la carte from only $.99


Shop from thousands of high quality vector icons, providing a consistent look for your project. No subscriptions. Great prices. And free icon sets too.

Shop For Vector Icons

If you like this, please share!

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in The Icon Blog

The Golden Spiral: Design found in art and nature
The Golden Spiral: Design found in art and nature

Creating amazing design starts with a simple number. The Golden Spiral can be found in both art and nature.

Continue Reading →

9 eye-popping app icon design ideas
9 eye-popping app icon design ideas

Looking for another way to increase app downloads? It's time to take a serious look at your app icon design. Here are 9 brilliant ideas to inspire your design!

Continue Reading →

Understanding the common elements of graphic design
Understanding the common elements of graphic design

There is a reason why certain symbols seem so familiar. We're breaking down the meanings of common symbols of graphic design in this post.

Continue Reading →