The Icon Handbook

20 Dec 2011

The Icon Handbook is now available to buy. Here’s what it looks like:

This is a book that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Whenever I’ve looked for a book on this subject, the only available publications are reference guides that simply reproduce as many symbols as possible. Where books have gone into theory, they were published decades before desktop computers, and therefore miss the most relevant and active context of icon use. Sometimes the topic is covered as a part of a book about logo design, and amounts to little more than a page or two. So I’ve set out to create the manual, reference guide and coffee table book that I always desired.

It’s aimed at designers who already have basic vector and bitmap drawing skills. It could be that you only have to create a simple favicon, or perhaps you’ve been asked to work on a website or mobile app that requires icons. You might usually rely on a resource like a royalty-free icon set, which may provide common icons but probably doesn’t provide everything you need.

This book begins at the point when you need to create your own icons. Its purpose is to guide relatively inexperienced designers through an icon design workflow, starting with favicons and working up to application icons, as well as inspiring and providing a reference point for existing icon designers. It does not set out to teach you how to draw in a particular application. The aim is not to improve proficiency in particular applications but, rather, to show you how to create icons with the common toolset found in most of them, so you can be more versatile.

Here’s what you can find in the Icon Handbook:

Chapter 1: A Potted History of Icons

A short look at the history of icons, focussing on the the last century, and in particular how ‘icon’ came to mean more than religious painting.

Chapter 2: How we use icons

Looking at the uses for icons beyond simple decoration, how they help us navigate, give us feedback and express our mood. It also looks how not to use icons!

Chapter 3: Favicons

Starting with the simplest form of icons, looking at how to get crisp artwork at small sizes and the various ways favicons are used.

Chapter 4: The Metaphor

Working through the process of discovering if a metaphor already exists, and how to decide on the right one if there isn’t.

Chapter 5: Drawing Icons

Walking through the drawing process, working with simple pictograms and small colour icons, and looking at the pitfalls on the way.

Chapter 6: Icon formats and deployment

There are many different formats and deployment methods for icons, depending on the context, which can have a bearing on how we create the artwork. In particular I cover all the methods for displaying icons on websites.

Chapter 7: Application Icons

We finish on the largest and most complex of all the icons, which are more often than not, photorealistic works of art.

Appendix

Handy reference, including: Common icon badges, overview of drawing and creation tools and a comprehensive icon reference chart.

Along the way, I talk to icon designers such as Susan Kare, David Lanham and Gedeon Maheux of the Iconfactory and many more about their process behind well known icons.

On top of all that, there’s some jolly nice eye candy in there!

Thanks must go to many people (the acknowledgments is 2 pages) but I must particularly thank the team that put this together at Five Simple Steps, including Emma, Nick and Mark Boulton, Colin Kersley and Sarah Morris. Also to the words team: my project manager Chris Mills, copy editor Owen Gregory, and technical editors Gedeon Maheux of The Iconfactory and inimitable Andy Clarke.

You can purchase the digital edition and/or pre-order the paperback which will ship around 30th Jan 2012. There will also be an accompanying website at iconhandbook.co.uk which will contain reference and code examples from the the book, as well as a blog with bits that didn’t make it into the first edition!

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