We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Paul Jansen, a young entrepreneur who heads the Netherlands based icon design company Flat Icons. We had featured one of their finance icons in our “Icon Design Trends” post as a great example of the “elaborate line icon” style and Paul was kind enough to share more with us about his company and his thoughts on icon design. He also offered to include this awesome 15 icon set freebie so you can get an even better idea of what makes their work stand out. Thanks Paul :)
Can you briefly describe Flat Icons – who you are, where you’re based and what you do?
Flat-icons is a design team solely focused on icons. From our home base in the Netherlands we try to come up with original ideas and convert these ideas into pixel-perfect icons every day.
Did you always want to be a designer? How to did get into icon design specifically?
I don’t do the icon design myself actually; I’m just overseeing the whole operation and make sure all our icons meet the quality standards we set for ourself. I did always have affinity with graphic design but got into the business by somewhat of a coincidence. The site Flat-icons.com was for sale and I saw this as a great opportunity to get into the design space and grow the site.
What excites you about creating icons?
What excites me personally is to come up with ideas that are original and in demand. When the crypto-hype started we came up with a crypto icon set very fast and the response from customers was great.
What do you think constitutes a “good” icon?
A good icon does not need a text explanation next to it, people should just see what it depicts. Also, in this over-saturated market an original style is needed to stand out. It doesn’t have to be fashionable though.
Any thoughts as to where icon trends are heading in the next few years (style, usage. etc.)?
Tough question. I think there will be some new trends and changes but generally speaking I’m surprised about how long trends survive in graphic design. I mean, for how long is that watercolor trend going on for now?
What do you find to be the greatest struggle(s) for icon creators and graphic designers in general?
Coming up with good concepts. As an icon designer you should have a lot of knowledge about the themes you’re designing. A lot of designers are just looking at each other. You have to thoroughly investigate which icons people need for a certain theme.
When settling on a concept, which is more important to you : immediately recognizable or outside the box?
Do you love, hate or feel indifferent toward promoting your own work? Do you have a strategy for reaching icon users you find most effective?
I like to come up with original strategies to promote our work. Many designers just put it on Instagram and call it a day. I don’t think that’s very effective.
Is Flat-Icons your full-time job or a side project? If side project, what’s your day-time gig?
I’m a full-time entrepreneur. Flat-icons is one of my businesses.
Do you listen to music when you work and if so, what are you listening to?
Yes, Solumun!! (and some more of course, but a lot of Solumun. If you’re into dance music with a relaxed vibe check out his set on Boiler Room Tulum – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk6Xst6euQk )
As the digital age continues to lead us toward an increasingly image-oriented culture, one could say that the intersection of the skilled artisan and the digital designer has never been so close. Thanks to rapid advances in image editing capabilities and easier access to the applications that make them possible, the term “graphic designer” might now refer to an illustrator, printmaker, pattern maker or watercolorist. The slow climb over the last few decades toward the integration of the digital and handmade included many awkward transitions and frankly embarrassing attempts (think “Mistral” or “Papyrus” for some easy targets). However, through all of these trials we’ve arguably reached a point where a beautifully hand-lettered script, a cracked and faded logo, an off-registered vintage screen print or a minimal pen and ink illustration can be seamlessly transformed into a PNG for use virtually anywhere with the right skills and the right software.
The “vintage” and “handmade” aesthetics, both umbrella terms that include various sub-categories, have always had a wide appeal for designers and consumers alike. They manage to convey many things at once – to embody characteristics that are charmingly askew and undeniably human. They project a certain confidence in their vulnerability, their indifference to clean lines and their embrace of the physical signs of aging, and through association they can grant those characteristics to the person they adorn or the brands they represent.
Despite the fact that this seems to be the golden age of the digitized organic look, pulling off something that stops someone in their tracks and elicits a “that’s looks awesome” response requires, as it always has, exceptional talent, technical skills, impeccable taste and the rare but all-important ability among artists to cleverly showcase the work. After years of stalking and ogling the designers who’ve made this article possible, it is my pleasure to list 10 of our personal favorites who seem to have all the previously mentioned attributes well in tact.
Hand Drawn Japanese Patterns via Youandigraphics
The expansive collection of Wabi Sabi inspired patterns shown above is one of the most recent of many jaw-dropping offerings from Greek digital and graphic designer Irene Demetri of Youandigraphics. She’s an incredibly skilled illustrator who has successfully found a niche in the hand-drawn pattern category, creating sophisticated looking designs that lend authenticity and personality to whatever they touch. Her talents are put on full display and end usage of the products are clearly demonstrated through meticulous mockups. Hand Drawn Japanese Patterns, Evil Eye Illustrations and Dots and Lines Patterns manage to feel both eye-catching and inconspicuous at the same time – no more or less at home on an Instagram background than on expensive chinaware.
Vintage Plastisol Cracked Textures via It’s me simon
It’s Me Simon (Simon Stratford)
If you head over to London based designer Simon Stratford’s site, you’ll find a short bio containing the characteristically blunt sentence “I stopped doing things I didn’t want to do—and started doing things that I did want to do.” After perusing his various personal projects and shop offerings, his statement isn’t hard to believe. Each offering demonstrates a clear intention to take something he’s passionate about and turn it into a design asset that others can experiment with in their own work.
His products don’t quite feel like products – more like the well executed passion projects of someone who relishes in the grungy textures, faded ink and retro palettes of old record sleeves…he just also happens to be making them available to the public. His Plastisol Kit is one of many brilliant collections of textures and effects that one would never guess was created on a computer. He’s also astoundingly generous with his freebies, all of which are high-quality (including Separator used in the cover image for this post – thanks Simon!), which for us just reinforces the idea that truly great design only comes from those who choose to “do the things that they want to do”.
Vintage Nautical Illustrations via Mr. Vintage
Just in case you had any doubts as to what Mr. Vintage is passionate about, he made sure to put it right in the name. I’ve been eyeing his tasteful vintage vectors for some time now and continue to be in awe of his ability to preserve all of the delightful little details that make vintage looking things so damn exciting. From amongst the hordes of “vintage” clip art floating around your local stock graphics mega-site, Mr. Vintage distinguishes himself with careful vectorizations that manage to preserve the details and charming blemishes of their 16th – 19th century sources without leaving them looking amateurish. Collections like Ocean Life and Cosmos are thoughtfully curated and presented with gorgeous embossed cover images like the one pictured above.
Blackstone – Hand Drawn Font via Hustle Supply Co.
Hustle Supply Co. (Jeremy Vessey)
Jeremy Vessey of Hustle Supply Co. has spent the last few years establishing himself as a prominent creator of vintage and undeniably handsome hand-lettered script fonts. His personal site displays an astounding variety of expertly crafted type made by someone who is clearly enamored with both the gritty industrial and flourished calligraphic trends of early to mid 20th century type design. One wouldn’t bat an eyelash if they found his Blackstone Script on a dusty old shoe polish tin or his sans serif Berringer typeface branded into a lathe from the 1940s. His prolific portfolio demonstrates a deep love of his craft and he boasts a long list of high profile clients who’ve sought out his talents.
We couldn’t make a best of list without a little shameless self-promotion, but don’t worry – we’ve got just enough shame to avoid gushing too much over our own work.
So here’s the short and sweet version: one day after years of noticing all those achingly beautiful cross-hatched illustrations of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices on food and cosmetics packaging, I decided to grab a pen and try my hand at it. I’m quite happy with the results, and if you’re looking for more examples of the vintage vectors shown above, please check out our Vintage Fruit and Herbs & Spices collections.
Hand Drawn Nature via Michael Rayback Design
Michael Rayback Design
While deciding who to include in this article, I stumbled upon some work I wasn’t familiar with by designer Michael Rayback and was immediately drawn in by his remarkably simple vector ink illustrations. Michael offers large collections of charming hand-drawn elements for prices that one could justify paying for a single element. They sport clever depictions of ordinary objects that any small business owner would gladly use for that final illustrative fingerprint on their logo. He’s a man of many talents though, as shown in the subdued triangular woodcut emblems (pictured above) that convey a somewhat darker, more traditional feel than his line drawings.
Onion and Bay Leaves via Maria Redko
If you’re looking for stunning high-res watercolors, patterns and drawings, please check out the saturated eye-candy by Illustrator Maria Redko pictured above. I was floored the first time I came across this and her cross-hatched Orchard collection a few years ago, and she’s a testament to the fact that artists using traditional media can thrive in the digital age. Her design elements, however, are but the small part of a larger whole – Maria is a ridiculously talented artist and you can view the entire spectrum of her artwork including sketches, watercolors and oils here.
The Dot Shop – Illustrator Actions via Sivioco
Sivioco (Sam Jones)
When first opening our shop on Creative Market a year or two ago, I was introduced to Sam Jones aka Sivioco through a blog post he wrote titled “Creative Market: 6 months and $23,000 Later”. It was an honest account of his first few months selling on the marketplace and the actions that he thought contributed to his success. For anyone selling creative assets online, I highly suggest you check it out.
One of his realizations in the article was that a large part of his success, aside from luck, was a focus on making products packed with value as opposed to “client scraps”. Products such as The Dot Shop, Woodcutter and Retro Textpress are great examples of his philosophy put into action – a slew of authentic Photoshop tools that mimic faded halftone and letterpress effects and transform most any graphic into something that looks like it was made in a professional print shop for a fraction of the price.
Chloe Lavender – Hand Drawn Script via Greenhouse Supply Co.
Greenhouse Supply Co (Justin Greene)
Justin Greene aka Greenhouse Supply Co creates authentic looking hand-lettered typefaces and offers them up for a pittance compared to the average price tag of similar quality fonts. Much of his work typically evokes text on old signage, ledger books or early 1900s grave markers, and each one is jam-packed with personality. His offerings run the gamut from bleak sans serif (Black Coffee) to flowing script (Chloe Lavender), from a shy whisper (Caleb Font) to a bold declaration (Jonestown).
The Vintage Logo Elements Collection via Ian Barnard
It’s difficult to try and categorize the work of UK designer Ian Barnard as anything other than “high quality hand-made”. It covers such a wide variety of product types (fonts, logos, textures, brushes) and styles (feminine, masculine, retro, vintage, contemporary) that it defies narrow categorization. He’s created many popular products for those desiring that hand-made effect including his recent pack of Illustrator add-ons VectorPress and the clean and stylish Smoothy Cursive Script. Typefaces certainly dominate his shop and he’s amassed a large and loyal following due to, I can only assume, an extensive selection of high quality work and a genuine interest in calligraphy and hand-lettering. This line from the about page on his site seems to provide some good insight into his take on modern design: “It’s amazing what can be achieved when we make stuff with our hands.”
Computer icon design has been around in some form or another since the late 70’s, but since then the idea of what exactly constitutes an “icon” has changed dramatically. The term once associated with minimal black and white images serving as the digital equivalent of call-to-action roadsigns might now refer to more elaborate and colorful illustrations meant to enhance textual content. Our continually expanding possibilities as graphic designers have led to icons that are sophisticated, intricate and more “playful, stand-alone creations” than “purely functional stand-ins”. Naturally, the lean toward more visual exploration leads to exciting new design trends, which can be equally helpful if used tastefully and harmful if followed slavishly for the sake of…well, of being trendy. We’ve picked out 5 major icon design trends that are either here to stay in 2018 or are just now popping up – enjoy, and please use responsibly :)
Used largely with stroked multi-color icons, the desaturated palette look has appeared quite a bit over the past few years and seems to still be going strong in 2018. The effect is popular for its ability to soften the impact of the icon on the viewer’s eye and create a more subtle reaction, which further allows the icon to aid in the comprehension of content instead of distracting from it. The lightened hues also make for a much more versatile graphic as the designer can worry less about a loudly colored icon clashing with the palette of the surrounding design (check out our medical icon set for some more examples of this technique). Furthermore, desaturating the palette can make it easier to stroke multi-color icons with unusual colors in place of the traditional black outline, resulting in a truly unique icon.
Sparkles and Dots
As laughable as the above style might sound, you can find it virtually everywhere. The trend started popping up around 2017 and has continued to appeal to designers as a fun way to add a lively touch to the space surrounding an icon. It manages to convey a playful and vaguely retro 50’s feel while still remaining versatile and contemporary. This effect is often coupled with a subtle drop shadow under the icon which creates the illusion of an unconfined icon floating in space.
Via Paolo Valzania
I remember seeing this light stylistic touch around the time I was just getting into icon design around 2015 and it seems to have endured over the last few years. If one is careful not to overuse the broken line to the detriment of the icon, it’s a fairly simple technique for the designer to execute but one that results in an undeniably contemporary look. It’s often used to represent a subtle light reflection on the outline of a shape or it can be a filled shape within the object, creating the shiny “bubble” effect. Even as a simple dot or two trailing the end of a line, it can effectively add a distinct sense of movement to an otherwise static looking graphic.
Elaborate Line Icons
Icon design has seen a huge development over the last few decades and more possibilities for icon designers has led to the pushing of boundaries beyond universal utilitarian symbols. Serious icon designers with time to dedicate to their craft are now able to create intricate scenes that combine multiple stand alone icons and essentially do away with the traditional “less is more” philosophy. These icons work on a number of levels by visually engaging the viewer, escaping the trap of using a simple and generic concept, and presenting the exciting challenge to the designer of piecing together a truly unique scene.
Via Dave Chenell
One of the most exciting design trends has been the prevalence of animated icons created with Adobe After Effects. Where fluid animation was once confined to relatively simple icons like the “hamburger menu” or the play button, more intricate vector icons are now able to spring to life and create a playfully engaging user experience. You might say we’ve backtracked to the dark ages of the internet where GeoCities home pages were invaded by unsightly flying fairies and distracting spinning planets – except this time we actually got it right. Whereas the intentions for animated gifs back then was mainly to pimp your page (content be damned), designers seem to have learned to harness the power of web animations for good by making them more relevant to the content and resisting the looping effect which can lead to overstimulation. Let’s just hope it stays this way…