Branding Step 10: Create guidelines for iconography and illustrations

The tenth step in Active Marketing’s branding process is defining the iconography and illustration guidelines that will be used throughout all of your marketing efforts. Iconography refers to all of the images and symbols that will appear on your website and across your marketing paraphernalia. When used correctly, icons are a highly effective way to convey big ideas without using a single word.

Iconography in Marketing

Icons can be extremely useful in marketing, especially in an image-based world such as this. You only have a few words to get a reader hooked, so adding icons and illustrations draws in their attention while still conveying the same message a block of copy would.


Icons are also great for breaking up long blocks of text, showing a point of interest and separating sections. They can include anything from a “Contact Us” button to a symbol that defines your brand. The key is picking out the important pieces of information that really need an icon and developing a symbol that perfectly represents your message.

Icons are meant to be scannable and attractive. The biggest mistake people make is flooding their pages with icons – having too many will decrease the impact of each one and overwhelm the reader, causing them to bounce.

An Exercise

Take a look at the following icons and match them up with the word or phrase they represent:
That was easy, wasn’t it? How is it a universal truth that an envelope signifies sending an email? Because people are generally visual and associate everything to a physical object, so having an image allows them to connect with it and remember it much easier than if it was a simple word.

Medium explains it well:

“Icons should be suggestive of the functionality with which they are associated. The best icon will suggest to the user the primary purpose of the program of operation without having to read the accompanying text. Users recognize functionality suggestive icons more rapidly than other forms because they directly associate with a physical object or action.”

Usage Guidelines

We have found that the most efficient way to create guidelines for iconography and illustrations is to create the designs first, in a way that enhances the brand personality, and then begin writing the guidelines. They are based on the characteristics of the icons we created and the things that make them cohesive in style and brand strengthening. We should be able to create new illustrations and icons that, if they follow this guide, will fit perfectly into our existing designs. While we create icons for your current site, we will also create a complete set for future use. This will not only save us time in the design process, but will also provide a much more consistent brand. The end result will be a library of icons to choose from in the future without having to go back and design new ones from scratch.