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When To Use Icons On Your Website

  • By Brad Poirier
  • 15 Aug, 2017

Choosing between an image or an icon

when-to-use-icons-on-your-website-screen-
We are a visual society, so you should be using at least one of these options on your website.

Just like website design ranges from no use of images to the overuse of them, same is true with icons today. More than ever, some webpages are being cluttered with icons, that often add no context to the page or just add nothing to the user experience.

When is it good to use an icon on your website? Here's a few criteria I follow plus some resources for putting icons on your website.

When to place an icon on a webpage

First and foremost, I ask myself: Is this going to provide a clear visual context to the user?
If the answer is no, then the answer to placing the icon is also no.

For instance, take a look at this example for a design-build company specializing in basement remodeling  that we recently developed a responsive website for.
when-to-use-icons-on-your-website
Using three icons to visually represent their 1, 2, 3 process.
This company has an easy 3-step process for getting your basement remodeled.

First is an in-home consult, which is of no charge to the homeowner. This is represented by a chat bubble. A chat bubble represents speech, a conversation, which is the goal of that first step. Second step is designing their basement, which is represented by the pencil. Third and final step is to build it, which is represented by the tools crossing each other.

None of this needs to be explained however, but it's understood quite clearly and well, automatically.

Now an image could have been used in replace of the icon, but what image would we put in there?
One option would be to get a photo of the salesperson greeting a homeowner or sitting down with them, but that's not always an option to get that original photograph.
A second option would be to purchase a high quality stock photo, but no matter how nice and unique the photo is, it will never be as genuine as an original photo that can be taken.

So the third option, and in my opinion, the best option is to use an icon like we did here.

How To Get Icons On Your Website

There are several ways to get icons up on your website. If you're using Wordpress, your theme might have a built in icon widget.

If you're one of our clients and using a Breeze Digital Website, we have a built in icon picker for you that's very easy to use, with hundreds of built-in icons to choose from and easily changing the size, color, background and more. You can also upload your own icons, as long as they are in an SVG format (Scalable Vector Graphic).

There's another easy option though, besides our own icon picker.

Using Icon Fonts

Another option to get icons onto your website is the use of what's called an icon font.

What is an icon font? It's basically the same thing as a regular font, just appears differently.

Take 'Comic Sans' for example. (Actually, you should take that font and delete it from your system and everyone else's)
When you choose Comic Sans for the font on your website, you are telling your website to display all of the letters and characters in that font style. Simultaneously you are also telling the world you have poor judgement in font selections.

An icon font works the same way, except you're not using it to display letters, and you also do not insert the icon from a keystroke.

Let's look at one icon font to use as an example, Font Awesome .

(P.S. They're also working on a great icon project known as Font Awesome 5 , their fifth iteration of their icon font system. You really should check it out. I backed them on Kickstarter, I think I was backer #6 or 7 or something like that. Actually I was in the hundreds, but it's really a great system. I use it all the time.)
Website using font awesome
Website Icons using Font Awesome
In the same example website as above, on their contact page we are using two icons from Font Awesome, version 4.
An icon font, will take on the inherit style of the <body> font. So in this case, it's set at a relative size of "20px" and is the same green RGB of 41, 165, 85. You do have the ability to change that and do more to it, but to make this a very easy and simple illustration, that's all it's doing here.

How To Place A Font Awesome Icon On Your Website

There really is a more detailed version that's explain much better than I can on Font Awesome's own Getting Started page. But the jist is this:

  1. Get Font Awesome onto your website, usually either through CSS or their nifty CDN.
  2. Place the html <i> tag wherever you want the icon to appear, followed by the proper font awesome classes you are applying.
  3. You can optionally add your own classes to the tag as well to customize this.
It will look something like this:
<i class="fa fa-heart"></i>
Which then produces this:

The Moral Of The Icon

1. If you're looking to place icons on your website, just always ask yourself if it's going to enhance the experience or just because everyone is doing it today and it looks "cool".

2. When choosing your icons, find ones that actually relate to the text it's being used to enhance. If you're using an icon by itself with no text, make sure that when someone sees the icon, they'll instantly discern what it's representing. If in doubt, show it to a few people.

3. If it's a single color icon, match it to one of the colors being used on your site.

4. Use a multi-colored icon, as long as those colors are being used on your website. Don't clash your colors.
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By Brad Poirier 15 Aug, 2017
We are a visual society, so you should be using at least one of these options on your website.

Just like website design ranges from no use of images to the overuse of them, same is true with icons today. More than ever, some webpages are being cluttered with icons, that often add no context to the page or just add nothing to the user experience.

When is it good to use an icon on your website? Here's a few criteria I follow plus some resources for putting icons on your website.
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Local Directories come up first. Do a quick Google search for anything local business related, for instance "restaurants near me". I did this search, and not one result on the first page was from a local business website. ALL of the first 10 results were local review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and OpenTable.

Now to be fair, there were three local results that appeared first, in what we call the Google Snack Pack. Before the website results, Google displays three locations from Google Maps, which is also very important. For websites though, it was all local directories.
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There is a much better way to accomplish what you are trying to do. You may have seen it, used it, tried it, but here's how to get the most out of the post type called "Offer". Watch the video below to see an example or read below.
By Brad Poirier 10 May, 2017

Chances are the website you’re using for your business is using Wordpress. Why? Because right now,  Wordpress powers 26% of the web   ...worldwide. That’s an overwhelming market share. In the past, my experience using Wordpress has been for some personal blogs, never as a commercial website. For the past few years working as a web designer, I have been using a version of  Zurb’s Foundation Framework   to develop websites. I’ve stayed away from Wordpress for many reasons, which I’ll explain below.

I figured though: If Wordpress powers 26% of the web, it can’t be all that bad though right? Wrong. Sure, Wordpress has it’s advantages, namely in the blogging area. It still is the go-to platform of choice for blogging. Here’s the thing though: Wordpress was never meant to be a website builder. It just evolved that way. What started off as an independent project grew into the global name it is today. The entire platform though, is supported mainly by community members. Try calling a Wordpress support number. Nope. Doesn’t exist.

To really put Wordpress to the test though, I had to actually go through and build a full site, not just a blog page. Well certainly, I wasn’t going to waste my time at work building a client’s website on Wordpress. I decided to build one for myself. I have a photography hobby, and so I chose to build a photography portfolio. 15 hours later, I have an OK performing website with 3 pages setup plus some gallery pages. I am a professional designer and it took me 15 hours to get it somewhat polished.

I logged my experience every step of the way, and so here’s all of my pain points and some of the positives that came out of this experience. Overall I can tell you, though, it’s about as horrible as I expected it to be. I am more certain now than ever, that I never want to develop websites using Wordpress. I can see why large Wordpress sites are expensive to develop. Development costs are almost entirely billed by time. The longer it takes your web developer to get from blank to finished, the more it will cost you. (FYI, my development time and costs are substantially lower than industry averages)

By Brad Poirier 07 Mar, 2017
Did you know that the average consumer checks your website at least two times from two different devices before they journey into your location? Over 60% of searches start  from a smartphone device , but there is still a great amount of desktop and tablet traffic coming in. Why is that? Some of that desktop traffic is the original, organic traffic yes. However, a lot of it is a returning customer. Perhaps you're a kitchen remodeler , someone searches for "kitchen remodeling" and they find your website from their smartphone. They're not ready to buy yet though. So they bookmark or they email their significant other the web address. When they get home, they venture to their desktop or start using their tablet to continue the research.

Most (amateur) web designers only pay attention to the desktop view. Sad face: many web designers still build websites that are desktop only, they're not building responsive websites that are mobile-optimized. The worst part is they're often designing this on a 20" or larger monitor. Of course it's easy to design a great site when you have 20" of a digital canvas to work with. The real Picasso comes out when you can take that same great experience and display that on a 4" screen, AND to optimize it for as slow as a 3G connection. There's a big difference between your site being mobile-friendly and mobile-optimized. Mobile-friendly usually just means making sure the content is formatted to scroll up and down and no content stretches beyond the width of the smartphone screen. Mobile-optimized is taking the same content from your desktop and optimizing it for a mobile experience. This is important now more than ever, as Google has started to ONLY SEO Index your mobile site and not your desktop site.

So that's the why I design websites using four screens. You might interested in knowing what are the screens I design with, and how I use each one of them to turn your website from blah to Yahhh! I only build websites that are responsive. I check how the content looks and how the content interacts along the way. Below are the screens that I use to check this with and more importantly, the order in which I do this.

Screen #1 - Smartphone
You might be shocked to think that the first screen I check my work on is a mobile device. If you were a bakery and 60% of your revenue came from donuts, would you start your morning by prepping the cookies and pastries? You start with your money maker! Well, since over 60% of all Google searches start from a mobile device, why would you start with the device that people aren't using as much? I'll tell you why, it's because you're working with an amateur designer. Or perhaps you're working with a legacy designer who won't budge. When I design in a mobile-first environment, I can truly focus on that experience and maximizing it's potential. We focus on getting the most important information right away. For most businesses this means placing a "TAP-TO-CALL" style button at the top of the page. Nothing is more frustrating than having to remember the number in your head and quickly double-tap-your-home-button to get to the phone dialer and attempt to get every number in there correctly. If location visits are important we also make sure there are easy-to-find buttons for loading your bulit-in GPS navigation.

What do you think the next screen is going to be?

Screen #2 - Tablet
Did you guess that correctly? It's only natural to work my way up the screen size. Now that I've mastered the experience for mobile, I can open up canvas a little here and work on the tablet view. Tablets today range from about 7"-10" and yes there are those two outliers that are around 13" , but they're still a tablet, at least according to the internet browser being used. A growing trend for the tablet view is using what we call the "hamburger" menu. That's the 3-line menu button you might see in the upper right or left hand corner of the screen. We layout the navigation in both the hamburger format and the traditional horizontal navigation. It all depends on the business and the goal of your website. That's why we custom design all of our sites starting with a 1-on-1 consultation . Since a tablet is still inherently a mobile device where the user interacts using only a touchscreen, we still are focusing on easy, tappable buttons. Consumers are used to tapping on items with their tablets, we make it super easy for that to happen. Gone are the days of only making links available from within the text. Consumers need clear call-to-action buttons to guide them along their buying journey.

Screens #3 & #4 - Laptop & Large Monitor
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So there you have it. The method to my madness. Some people look at website design and say why not , I look at website design and say why ? Rule of thumb: Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. I'm on the web all day long. I can easily spot a badly performing website, in terms of conversion. Today, you're website is all about conversion . Your business can't afford to run a wiki-pedia website. It needs to be a lean, mean, lead-generating machine. This applies to all business websites.

What are some examples of good and bad website design that you have seen?
By Brad Poirier 20 Feb, 2017
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