The Power of Icons: Enhancing Your Infographics with Visual Symbols

When it comes to creating compelling, easy-to-understand infographics, the right visuals can make all the difference. While charts, graphs, illustrations and photos are all important elements, there‘s one type of visual asset that‘s often overlooked: icons.

Icons are simple, stylized symbols used to represent concepts, objects, or actions. When used effectively in infographics, icons can help enhance communication, reinforce key messages, and make complex data easier to comprehend at a glance.

In this guide, we‘ll take a deep dive into the world of infographic icons. You‘ll learn the two main ways icons are used to visualize information, tips and best practices for incorporating them into your designs, and helpful resources for finding the perfect icons for your projects. Plus, get inspired by real-world examples of infographics that harness the power of icons.

Two Common Ways Icons Are Used in Infographics

There are two primary ways that icons get used in the context of infographic design: to represent data and statistics, or to visually communicate concepts and ideas. Let‘s take a closer look at each approach.

1. Representing Data and Statistics

One of the most common uses for icons in infographics is as a visual representation of quantities. Rather than just listing out a statistic or data point as a number, designers will often use a series of repeating icons to help audiences quickly grasp the scale and meaning behind the data.

For example, consider an infographic about world population. To show the population of various countries, you could simply list the number of people living in each nation. But to really drive home the massive scale, you might use icons of tiny people to build a visual representation. A single icon could represent 1 million people, for instance, so China‘s population of 1.4 billion would be visualized by 1,400 people icons.

Representing statistics with icons taps into our brains‘ visual processing powers and pattern recognition capabilities. It makes us notice the data in a way that numbers alone often don‘t. And it allows us to make comparisons and spot differences much more quickly.

The key to successfully using icons to represent data is to keep them simple and easy to count at a glance. Stick to basic shapes and forms. Don‘t make the icons too detailed or complex. Use consistent sizing and spacing. And be sure to include a clear legend so that people understand what each icon represents.

Some common icon-based data visualization methods include:

  • Pictograms – A series of repeating icons, usually arranged in a grid, where each icon represents a set quantity
  • Icon arrays – Groups of icons (often 10×10 or 5×20) used to visualize parts of a whole or compared proportions
  • Icon charts – A variation of standard charts and graphs that use icons in place of bars, lines, or other typical markers

2. Communicating Concepts and Ideas

Aside from representing specific data points, icons also get heavily used in infographics to help communicate themes, topics, and ideas in a visual way. Think of them like a simplified visual language.

For example, an infographic about the benefits of meditation may use icons of a brain, a thought bubble, a lotus flower, and a person sitting cross-legged to quickly convey concepts of mental activity, mindfulness, zen, and the physical act of meditating. The viewer can look at those icons and instantly grasp the main idea without having to read a lot of text.

Icons are especially helpful for reinforcing section headers, organizing information, and drawing the eye to important points. When a reader scans the infographic, those iconic visuals pop out and make it easy to quickly navigate the content.

Some best practices for using icons to communicate concepts:

  • Choose simple, universally-recognizable icons that clearly relate to the topic
  • Incorporate your brand‘s colors, but avoid getting too elaborate with the icon designs
  • Be consistent with the icon style (e.g. all line icons or all flat icons) throughout the design for a polished look
  • Don‘t go overboard – use icons thoughtfully to enhance communication, not just as decorations

The Benefits of Using Icons in Your Infographics

So why bother with icons? How do these little visuals enhance infographics in ways that other design elements can‘t? Here are a few key benefits of icon usage:

  1. They are an effective visual communication tool. Icons transcend language barriers and make information accessible to a wider audience. Our brains process visuals much faster and more effectively than text.

  2. They make infographics more engaging. Iconic visuals add interest and visual appeal. They give the eye something to focus on besides just text and data.

  3. They help organize and prioritize information. Icons can be used to categorize details, denote sections, and highlight key takeaways. They bring a sense of hierarchy to the design.

  4. They make data feel more meaningful and impactful. Seeing a statistic conveyed with icons, rather than just as a number, makes it feel more tangible and "real." It adds weight and significance to the data.

  5. They enhance memorability and shareability. People are more likely to remember and share visuals than plain text. A well-designed infographic with clever icon usage has viral potential.

  6. They provide opportunities for branding. Consistently using icons that align with your brand‘s aesthetic makes infographics feel like a cohesive part of your visual identity.

Tips for Effectively Using Icons in Your Infographics

To get the most out of icons in your infographic designs, keep these tips and best practices in mind:

  1. Keep them simple. Avoid overly detailed icons with too many colors or graphical elements. Stick to basic shapes and forms for maximum recognition and impact.

  2. Maintain consistency. Use a single icon style (e.g. flat, line, glyph) throughout your design. Mixing and matching different styles creates a cluttered, confusing look.

  3. Size and space them properly. Make sure your icons are large enough to be easily visible and recognized, but don‘t let them overpower the text and data. Provide ample spacing between icons so they don‘t blend together.

  4. Use relevant, meaningful icons. Don‘t just pick icons because they look cool. Choose ones that actually relate to and enhance your content. Each icon should serve a communication purpose.

  5. Don‘t overdo it. It‘s easy to get carried away with icons, but use them thoughtfully and sparingly. Too many will make your design look cluttered and busy. Let your data and message take center stage.

  6. Link colors to your color scheme. Customize your icon colors to match your brand or visual theme, rather than defaulting to black or gray. It will make your design feel more put-together and professional.

  7. Consider accessibility. While icons can enhance communication, they may not be terrifically useful to people with visual impairments. Don‘t rely solely on icons to convey critical information.

  8. Provide a legend if needed. If you‘re using icons to represent data, make sure you clearly spell out what each one means. Don‘t make your audience guess or infer.

When in doubt, get feedback from others on your icon usage and placement. A fresh set of eyes can help you spot areas where the iconography isn‘t pulling its weight or could be confusing to the audience.

Where to Find Icons for Your Infographic Designs

Now that you understand the value of icons and how to use them effectively, you may be wondering where you can find professional, high-quality icons for your own infographics. The good news is there are a wealth of online resources available. Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. The Noun Project – A massive library of over 3 million icons created by a global community of designers. Requires attribution or a membership.

  2. Flaticon – Billed as the largest database of free icons in the world. Includes both free and premium options.

  3. IconFinder – Over 5 million icons in all different styles. Prices range from free to just a few dollars per icon.

  4. Material Design Icons – A stylized set of 5,000+ icons from Google. Open source and free to use.

  5. Font Awesome – Popular icon set available in font formats for easy integration on the web. Free and paid versions.

  6. Streamline Icons – A set of 30,000 icons in three different weights. Lifetime membership unlocks all icons and formats.

In a pinch, you can also find a variety of free and low-cost icon templates on graphic design marketplaces like Envato Elements and Creative Market.

The key is to find an icon set that matches your desired aesthetic and brand personality. Don‘t be afraid to shop around and experiment with different options until you find your perfect fit.

Infographic Inspiration: Examples of Great Icon Usage

To help you visualize the potential of icons in infographic design, we‘ve rounded up a few examples of real-world infographics that use them to great effect.

  1. "The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post" by LeadPages

In this infographic, icons are paired with section headers to reinforce each element and add visual interest. The cohesive color scheme and consistent icon style pulls the whole design together.

  1. "A Natural Solution to the Energy Crisis" by GE

This nature-inspired infographic uses icons as data points to illustrate statistics about solar panel usage and potential. Arranging the sun icons in an array makes the quantities feel more tangible.

  1. "How Beer Saved the World" by Foxtrot Alpha

Throughout this infographic exploring the surprisingly significant role beer has played in human history, icons act as helpful markers and create a clear visual language tying each section together.

Take note of how each of these infographics use icons not just as an artistic flourish, but as a key communication tool to organize information and make data more meaningful. When used deliberately and thoughtfully, icons can elevate an infographic from simply pretty to powerfully effective.

Harness the Power of Icons in Your Infographic Designs

The right icons can take a good infographic and make it great. Whether you‘re using them to represent data, reinforce concepts, enhance branding, or simply add visual appeal, icons are a designer‘s secret weapon.

We hope this guide has given you a better understanding of the ways icons can be used to visualize information, along with some practical tips and resources to start incorporating them into your own infographic designs.

Remember, the goal is always clear communication and maximum impact. Continually ask yourself if each icon is pulling its weight and enhancing the viewer‘s understanding. With a little strategy and thoughtful implementation, you can harness the power of infographic icons to take your designs to the next level.