Icon design is a great field to be in. We live in a world where icons are encountered on a daily basis, on our computers, phones, TVs, cars, and every other imaginable electronic device with a screen. As such the demand for well-crafted icons that stand out among the competition is becoming ever greater. As I’ve said before, you don’t have to be a natural-born artist to be a great icon designer.
So how do you become an icon designer, even if you’ve got no experience with graphic design? It’s not a complicated process, but it involves a lot of work and patience.
The most important thing about learning a new skill is being motivated to do it. It’s not the kind of thing where you can say “well, it would sure be cool to know how to make icons”. You need to be excited enough to say “I am going to learn how to make icons!” The motivation comes from the enthusiasm to learn something new.
I can speak from experience in this case, though not in the area of design. A while back I had the idea to learn Italian. I thought “man, it would be pretty cool to be able to speak Italian”, and a year later I still don’t know more than a handful of words (enough to say “lei è una ragazza, lui è un ragazzo”). I simply liked the idea of learning another language, but I wasn’t excited about it.
If you don’t find yourself enthused and eager to learn about icon design, or any other skill, maybe you should consider looking into something else. I don’t believe in forcing yourself into wanting to learn something because eventually, wether that’s a few hours or a few years, you will run out of steam. If you’re reading this though I’m going to assume that you are excited about learning icon design, at least enough to read about it.
There are many ways to go about learning icon design. You could do the roundabout path like I did, going through just about every tenet of design, enrolling in a graphic design program at a college or university. However, that’s an expensive proposition and may not be your best option if you want to learn icon design.
What I would suggest is taking the time to learn on your own through tutorials and connections with people in the field, the only cost for these resources is time, and sometimes a relatively small amount of money. Also, with great apps like Sketch and Affinity Designer, you can get pretty powerful design tools for less than $100. Many of the skills you will learn in these applications will translate to other tools if you end up wanting or needing to move to something among Adobe’s collection of tools.
As you learn though, don’t get frustrated when your work isn’t as good as you’d like it to be. This can be a hurdle that can cause you to lose steam and motivation if you let it. You’re not going to be a great designer just because you know the software and the principles, knowing is only half the battle.
Hone Your Skills
So you’re excited about design, and you’ve learned the tools and techniques, now it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Come up with new projects that challenge you, and keep pushing yourself. This is why I do Icon a Day, but any kind of project that gets you practicing will be a net positive. You can do all sorts of projects to get practice. You can do projects for imaginary clients, going through every step of your process. You can make an icon pack around a specific theme to release on your website. You can do whatever your imagination dreams up, as long as it’s going to keep pushing you forward. You may not see day-to-day improvements, progress tends to fluctuate. However, what you will see a vast improvement in your work as the weeks and months go by.
Finding some organizational system to get a quick overview of your progress is a great motivator when you see how far you’ve come. You don’t have to publish your practice like I do, but I encourage you to keep your files in order so you can go back and see the bigger picture.