Put in a word for a perspective

Nearly every icon beginner faces a problem of the wrong perspective in his work. That happens basically because being enchanted by details, highlights, shadows and outlines he doesn’t want to “waste” time on preparatory “spade” work. He likes to skip the basement construction phase and move directly to the stucco over window frames.

As a result, he gets an icon that mostly resembles a hatch of blood-related children dressed in marine suits and bunched together on the arrival of dearest Aunt Augusta. Kids throw gloomy looks to the opposite sides and only dream of giving each other a good kick but don’t dare to do so in front of a severe parent.

To avoid such scene we’ll start with locating our icon object (or a group of objects) in space and choose the best way to look at it. Either to gover over it with wild eyes or creep under it crouching between dustbunnies and someone’s old bauchles.

Selecting a perspective.

So, for icon need, I mark out three perspectives:

1. Natural perspective (normal people also call it linear). It comes to the thesis “the farther it is, the smaller it looks”.

It seems to be used in icons most often and that is quite understandable. Being usual, it provides the quickest recognizing and understanding of the subject depicted.

You may and should use it wherever it is a human activity on the matter, or close to it.

2. Artifical perspective. The most common example is axonometry. Vision “rays” are parallel, and objects, regardless of distance, do not lose in size. A scanner looks at us that way, e.g. Although Terminator and RoboCop, according to the film, prefer linear perspective.

The use of artifical perspective in icon design was often forced, and explained by technics of pixel art. It made draw lines under strictly defined angles only, “pixel up, pixel to the right” or “pixel down, two pixels to the left”, else the result couldn’t be viewed without tears.

These days you may want to use artifical perspective when try to create “mechanical” or “robotic” look or when your icons are to be placed in the context alike (for example, posted on the isometric map).

3. Reverse perspective. I also call it “godlike”, because God sees us all in this perspective and thinks “That’s the last time I did it”. Vision rays issue from the vast God’s eye and concentrate on a single sinner being observed.


You can see the examples of reverse perspective on real icons.

Unlike real icons, the use of such perspective in computer icons is likely to be seen as a mistake or nonsense, because clients and users part are people in mose cases.

But if you get an order from God, please note that I have always respected you and considered smart and decent person, and always said I’m your best friend. Put in a word for me.

Point of view

Most icons we see are usually drawn “half-turned and sligntly from above”. There are three reasons for that:

  1. It is the very angle that usual man dressed in a suit and equipped with a mobile phone looks at coffee-cups, newspapers, teddy bears, cars and computers.
  2. This view emphasizes the best of the subject..
  3. And everybody does that.

But a thinking creature should not be easily satisfied with these reasons, because the thinking creature should first think about the impression it wants, and on the basis of that determine a viewpoint to look.

For example, if your icons depict large objects or structures (buildings, airplanes, trains), and also you use the view from above, then you must be prepared that a potential viewer will either consider your objects as small models of real prototypes or feel himself at the height of a crane operator’s cab.

On the contrary if your icons depicts a piece of cheese and you choose to look from below, then a piece of cheese will be able to feed all those who did not have five loaves and two fishes.

View angle

Among other things there is a view angle which is popularly spoken “hey man, your perpective is rather steep”.

Human eye can not manage view angle by itself so we use additional gadgets like a spy hole. When you looking into it you have all visitor’s noses engraved in your memory forever.

So if we take a naked eye then the view angle will change only if distance changes between an ovserver and an observed. Or when the ovserved objects changes it’s size.

And this gives us the following: the wider view angle, the closer icon object looks like (or the bigger it does look), The actual effect depends on the object itself and it’s entourage.

Well, I got it all, but what should I do?

Assume we get an order of icon creation. Assume this is an icon for milk factory site, to the “Our Achievements” section. And for some reason we’ve chosen a milk can as a metaphor.

The surrounding context (the site) does not issue any stringent requirements on the type of icons, and does not set limits in icon size or style.

  1. Choose a perspective type. Obviously, it’s better be natural.
  2. Choose a viewpoint. A milk can has a cylindrical form so it doesn’t make sense to rotate it around it’s vertical axis to maximize a volume effect. But how to choose a height of viewpoint?
    Think: we want to emphasize “our achievements”. That’s plenty of milk from well-fed cows, so it would be helpful to show the grandeur of a milk can. So, choose a viewpoint below the horizon.

  3. View angle. Based on the above reasons, choose the wide view angle (but not moving in the “fish-eye”).

Everybody is glad, everyone is happy, cows are stunned and bequeath to choose the right perspective.

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