Icons in Presentations
There are many different methods of presenting, some more successful than others. Bullet points don’t work. Neither does including a large, beautiful image on a slide. What does work however, is visualisation. But it can be difficult to portray certain ideas without the use of text. So how do presentation designers overcome this issue? By using icons.
What is an icon?
An icon is a small pictogram or symbol, used as a visual representation of an object or concept. Icons developed with computer graphic systems, as a way of enabling the user to easily navigate through a range of actions, without requiring text explanations. Now, icons are often used in graphical work as symbols, to demonstrate an idea or ‘thing’ in an easy-to-understand way.
Why should you use icons?
Icons reduce cognitive load, by simply demonstrating a concept that audiences can grasp without difficulty. The brain instantly recognises and understands the symbol, which means that the audience can focus on the presenter, or on the way the icon is interacting with other objects on the slide.
So what does this mean for presenters? It means that audiences can focus their attention on understanding your concepts and explanations, rather than working out what your visual represents, and why you’ve chosen to use it.
Icons are successful because they promote relevancy. With the absence of extraneous detail, they tell the story, without distracting the audience.
Icons are extremely common in everyday use. The print icon and the telephone icon are self-explanatory, and the light bulb has come to symbolise a new idea.
There are certain icons that are seen time and again in presentations, and ones that we at m62 use frequently. The very fact that they are used so often helps to aid comprehension, as it makes them recognisable to a wider audience.
This icon has received criticism for becoming almost a cliché – but this is undeserved. Whilst this may not be the most exciting visual in the world, it has come to represent a deal or partnership – helping audience members to visualise the outcome. Using an icon to represent this, rather than a photograph, helps to avoid any diversity issues, which some organisations could be sensitive about.
The information bubble
This icon is seen frequently in real-life situations around the UK, and has proved just as useful in presentations. Representing information or data is done easily by this icon, and can make many a slide much simpler. However, a word of warning – not all international audiences will be familiar with this as a symbol, so it may require explanation. See Icons and Visual Cognitive Dissonance below.
The warning triangle
Again, this symbol is extremely useful for demonstrating a range of concepts. The possibility of litigation; a high cost; potential loss of business – the possibilities are endless. Emphasising anything that may prove a cause for concern is all done by a simple icon, which will immediately get the audience’s attention.
Icons and Visual Cognitive Dissonance
If an audience has not come across the icon before, this does not mean that it won’t work. In fact, having to explain an icon to your audience the first time you reveal it can be the perfect opportunity to incorporate Visual Cognitive Dissonance into your presentation. If they don’t understand your icon, they will look to you for an explanation – leaving them fully engaged with you and your content.
This is not an excuse to use ClipArt. Icons should be an integral part of the slide message, and become part of the visualisation. ClipArt is frequently used incorrectly, and often leaves an unprofessional dint on a designed slide. Avoid ClipArt: if you would like to use icons, you’d be better off creating your own.
How should icons be used?
Simplicity is the key. While an icon should be well designed, its function is to convey the concept, without confusion. For this reason, silhouettes often work well.
Icons should be instantly and almost universally recognised. If you audience doesn’t understand it immediately, they should be able to understand what the icon is being used for in context, or grasp the idea without difficult after an explanation. This enables audiences to stop focusing on what the icon means, and rather on how it interacts with the rest of the slide.
Icons work best with animation, on visualised slides. Here are some examples of icons at work:
To see what m62 Founder Nicholas Oulton has to say on the subject, read his blogpost on Presentation Iconography at killerpresentations.com.
Icons can really transform your presentation and step your visualisation up a level. Try giving them a go today – download our free icon giveaway for some pre-designed icons that could really help you make your presentations more effective.
These icons are available to website subscribers only. Sign-up to m62.net (it’s free!) to download.
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Angela Norton, Project Manager, Idis
m62 was the best of all the companies we looked at because there’s a great deal of intelligence behind the presentation theory, and it seemed to make absolute sense – both in terms of theory, and in what we were trying to achieve.