Icons have been around for a number of years, but they seem to have gone back to a more simplistic, straightforward look recently. There are many reasons to use icons in your web designs. Icons serve many purposes, including breaking up long blocks of text and drawing attention to specific functions of your site. Visual communication is at least as important as the actual words on your page. Posts that have an image have a 650 percent higher engagement rate than posts that do not.

You can use these visual elements to add a lot of user-friendliness to your website. While you may want to use a mix of different types of visuals, there are several ways icons are particularly effective and powerful.

1. Intuitive Navigation

Using icons in your navigation bar can highlight the areas where you want users to go and help funnel them through your site smoothly. Most of your website visitors, 81 percent, skim the content they read. Because of this, an image has the ability to make a fast and lasting impact. Adding icons along with navigation details allows users to quickly navigate to where they want to go.

Take a look at the Vivi LeDish website and the way it uses a combination of a simple flat icon along with text to help users navigate the site. Once a user quickly familiarizes themselves with the navigation, going to different areas can be accomplished with a glance and a click. This works well to zip from page to page on the site.

2.      Draw Attention

Icons can also be used to draw attention to a particular item on the page. This works well to create opportunities for conversion and to help filter users to where you want them to go on your site. You can use a larger icon, bold colors or something a bit more detailed than the simpler icons in the Vivi LeDish example above.

Take a look at Great Sample Resume, which uses icons to point the user’s attention to the call-to-action (CTA) button. The entire goal of these icons is to get the user to take an action. There are even arrows under each icon pointing to the CTA button.

3.      Icon Filters

Another way you can use icons is to create filters for different versions of your product. This allows the user to see at a glance if she is choosing a specific option for that product. Because icons are so easy to digest, it reduces the need for wordiness. However, icons also work well with a single word or two to describe exactly what the user is filtering.

Take a look at the way icons are used as filters on the Sincerely Nuts website. Whenever someone lands on the website, they immediately see the filter options. The icons highlight these filters, so items can be found at lightning speed. This is important to someone shopping for a quick gift or specialty item. The icon filters feature candy crossed out for sugar-free, wheat crossed out for gluten-free, and a chocolate bar to indicate dark chocolate products.

4.      Break up Big Blocks of Text

Another way you can utilize icons is to break up big blocks of text. Users have a tendency to only read a portion of the words on a page, but if you can bring some visual interest to important headers or text by adding an icon next to it, then you can grab the user’s attention.

Take a look at how Espresso App has set up its site to draw attention to the text on the page. It uses the app icon to the left of the text, making it the same height as the paragraph. This is quite effective at both drawing the reader’s attention and breaking up a big block of text.

5.      Better for Mobile Devices

Using icons can help impact your mobile device traffic in a positive way. Our brains are wired to process visual cues much faster than text cues. About 20 percent of your brain is reserved for vision. Once something is learned, your brain can rapidly recall that thing as long as the item has been stored. So an icon that is a book will indicate reading, a pencil note taking, an envelope email, and so on.

Since those on mobile devices tend to skim more than those on desktops, using icons can help reduce the time it takes those users to process your page and thus allow them to put more focus on the actual content. As an added bonus, the user will remember that your site was enjoyable and will likely visit again.

6.      Icon Colors Matter

Don’t overlook the power of using color in the icons you place on your site. Adding color to a document increases recall of information by 82 percent, even when the info is very technical in nature.

There is a lot to consider when choosing color for your icons. There is an entire psychology behind different color choices to study. At the same time, you need to make sure the icons match the overall color palette of your design and complement it nicely. Different icons may need different colors to avoid confusion about which icon goes with which item, too. Marrying all these considerations together will give you the perfect icon look for your site.

Icons Are Trending

In 2018, icons are trending more than previous years. They are popping up in navigation on many sites and being added next to headers to draw attention to the main elements of a page. They add a lot of visual interest and diversity to a page. It’s easy to start with an icon or two. You might find you love the look and response so much that you add them to even more locations on your site.

*Cover image by Vlad Shagov.