Potboiler

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This text is not intended for icon designers but for those who have to face them. Customers.

Here as in any professional area there is often a situation when a customer can’t (and should not) understand subtleties and nuances of the work done. To some extent he is forced to trust the designer, because above a certain levels of product quality the customer is unable to rank it. It is normal and happens due the fact that the customer is not a professional in this field.

Now we’re going to look at signs which will help a customer understand whether he’s provided with a quality result or a piece of slipshod work.

Accuracy

Our computer screens consist of pixels and designers know that. Given that the icon is usually a graphical miniature, the designer should pay heightened attention to each pixel adjustment. If he doesn’t do that he’s doing a poor job.

Imagine we draw a fence. We can do it either every which way or making each line precise and clear.

A similar effect appears on objects’s edges if the line is drawn without love and by a shaky hand. As a result we get ragged pixels.

However one must remember that we’re now talking about images rasterized by hand (even though theycan be done in vector software). If you ordered vector icons (SWF, SVG formats, etc), note they’re rendered automatically on the screen and the designer has no responsibility how exactly separate pixels will look like.

Shadows

Shadows are the well-known stumbling block. You can assign a whole evening to cry over some icon shadows. This happens due to the following reasons:
1) it is rather hard to draw a realistic shadow. This reason we call valid to some extent.
2) some designers think shadows are minor objects and don’t worth much attention. This reason is a straight way to the slopwork.

See an example. We draw a kitty and want to give a shadow. Either we could put an oval blurred blob under it and go to sleep. Or we can think a bit about light source, viewpoints and shadow density, or consider whether we need a shadow at all here.

How can you distinguish between a good and a bad shadow if you don’t have artistic skills? It’s rather simple.
If you immediately see the shadow as a separate object, there is a good chance of a bad shadow here. If you see that objects in the icon are placed on some surface instead of hanging in non-being, this must be an icon with a good shadow.

Coloring

This is a delicate point which would not exist if we didn’t have graphical software able to create automatic color transitions or gradient fills.

This useful technique helps us to save efforts and time when render icons, but also provides disservice to beginner designers. They instantly get charmed with the effect and start applying it to each and ever object in the picture. Unfortunately they’re the only ones getting the pleasure as a result.

In the example on the left we see a picture filled with simple linear gradient fills. It looks rather poor and intermediate, like the author is still going to work on it. He should either be brave and make all colors flat (making a cartoon look) or elaborate it considering highlighting and shadows according to object’s shape and light sources.

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