Whether it's an explanation about solar panels or how to prepare your favorite farm-to-cup coffee, infographics compress a world of information into a simple, easy-to-digest format.
However, designing an infographic that successfully communicates a lot of information in a simple visual format takes more than a quick idea and template.
Fortunately, there is one design element that the best infographics have in common, and it can help you create a professional-quality infographic that gets your point across and looks great doing it.
Symbols are the secret tool designers use to move your eye from one point to another so that all of this information comes to you in just the right order.
Symbols make up the secret language of infographics. Once you learn how to speak them, your symbols will become more effective and (hopefully) widespread by your audience.
Why do you need infographic icons?
Infographics can be a great source of information when introducing a complex topic to an unknown audience. People love to share them because they can communicate a large amount of information in a sleek, easy-to-digest format.
However, it's easy to create an infographic that is overwhelming or just falls flat. Icons streamline the process of creating the infographic and ensure that the information to be shared is communicated effectively.
Infographic symbols give structure to your infographic and can be used to highlight important information. You can also efficiently explain what is happening at key points in the process without relying on words. You have limited space on an infographic, and icons help you say more with fewer words.
6 reasons to use icons in an infographic
1. You help your audience focus.
A good infographic is a buffet for the eyes, and your readers may have trouble focusing on part of it at a time. Icons add a much-needed sense of structure to the information in your infographic and create a guided experience for the viewer. The good placement of the icons makes navigating your infographic more intuitive for your audience.
In an excerpt from an infographic from the Infographic Journal, which shows the entire monetary history from 9000 BC. Covers to the present, the author uses symbols to mark important events and spark interest in a potentially boring timeline. Small (but important) arrow symbols along the timeline also keep the reader in the right direction.
2. They make the words you use count more.
Do you want to highlight your text on your infographic? Try pairing it with an icon. It's easy for your words to get lost on the graphic of your infographic.
Icons can draw attention to specific words or diagrams and help the viewer go with clearer, more memorable takeaways. You can also let the reader know what to expect from each section so that they can focus on the topics that interest them first.
In this excerpt from an infographic from Futurism.com, complex concepts (each of which could take a lot of text to explain) are accompanied by custom icons that can be used to reinforce the titles of each section with fewer words.
You may not immediately know what "ingestible robots" mean, but when you see the image of the robot jumping out of a pill capsule you can instantly get a better grasp of it.
3. They make the data easier to understand.
Charts with complex information can be a challenge for many people at first, but a simple icon can get your audience to understand the data in them and understand why it's important to them.
With complex charts, multiple symbols can break up individual sections and allow audiences to get more value from it, making it more likely that they will share it with their networks. You can also use icons to represent amounts on a chart instead of raw numbers to make them easier for your audience to grasp.
This screenshot of a USC Marshall School of Business infographic uses icons to convey data rather than a more traditional chart:
4. They can help you say more with less.
Icons are an ideal medium to tell a simple story that touches on the main subject of your infographic. This can form a unified message that enables your target audience to connect with the information presented.
Your infographic's data tells a story, and icons can instantly display it to your audience. From cave paintings to emergency exit signs, symbols can be used to create powerful, engaging stories using the simplest of shapes.
With the exception of an infographic by USC Rossier on the science of classroom design, you can get a feel for how symbols can effectively communicate complex information. Describing any of these classroom formats would have been awkward and would have required a lot of text, but icons can be used to summarize a lot of information in a simple visual representation.
5. They unlock common meanings.
The best thing about symbols is that they often mean the same thing in whatever context they use. This is a great way to add meaning to your infographic without having to explain it directly to your audience (and taking up valuable space in your design). Ultimately, this makes your infographic more accessible and easier to understand for your audience.
In the infographic excerpt from the daily infographic below, the designer uses two instantly recognizable symbols – money and people – excellent to explain the evolution of crowdfunding.
6. They contribute to the personality and voice of your brand.
The icons you choose can add personality to your infographic and are a great way to showcase your branding.
What do cute, funny, icons or hand drawn icons say about your brand or the information you provide? What about sleek, polished? The aesthetics you choose for your icons are just as important as any other information you include in our infographic.
In the example below from Printsome, a company that specializes in printing and design, it makes sense that the creator use a clean, consistent symbolic aesthetic that goes perfectly with the branding of their website.
The best free (and almost free) infographic icons resources
There are a variety of free and near-free sources for infographic icons and elements online. We have listed some of them here for your next project.
Looking for free vector icons created by a wide variety of designers? Flaticon is a great place to start your search. With 3,641,000 (and growing) free vector icons on the site, this website is a great option if you have a specific design and a budget in mind.
If you're looking for a more curated selection of options, Icons8 has free icons that are entirely designed by a single team. This is a great option if you have a plan to create a series of infographics and want to create a consistent look and feel among them all regardless of the subject.
Noun Project believes symbols help create an important global language, and their unique (and extensive) collection includes more specific options – we're talking about symbols depicting abstract concepts of artificial intelligence to Beyoncé – that you are unlikely to find anywhere else be on the internet.
If you've ever searched for free fonts on the web, you've probably come across DaFont – but did you know they have a solid selection of icons out there too? If you'd rather use icons in the custom font format than download them as images, DaFont is a good free option.
Most of the Iconshock library is free to use for non-commercial purposes. If your infographic is for commercial use, you'll pay a one-time fee for most of the icons here. This is a budget-friendly option if you are still testing infographics as a marketing strategy.
Iconfinder offers a good selection of extensive options with some expert curation. This is a bonus if you're not interested in filtering through hundreds of pages to find icons that match your ideal aesthetic. Most of the icons featured here are available free of charge for personal use, while pricing plans are available if you want to use any of the icons commercially.
Behance is a platform where designers around the world can showcase and sell their design work and connect with potential customers. However, many generous designers also offer some design goodies for free. If you're willing to spend some time searching, there are certainly some hidden gems on Behance that are well worth the search.
Icons give shape to your infographic.
Icons are important tools that add meaning and structure to your infographic, while also enabling better word economy in your overall design.
They can help orient the viewer to the information and provide cues that indicate the flow of the infographic. Even if your viewer is unfamiliar with the information in your infographic, symbols with a generally accepted meaning can help them better understand.
Ultimately, the icons you choose for your infographic and the way you use them can add to the overall benefit to your viewer.