How I Create an Icon a Day

Taking an icon from concept to final product is a challenging but rewarding process. I’m always excited to see my ideas go from doodles in a notebook to a fully fleshed out collection of pixels. It’s not ever a simple process, it requires patience and determination, but it also requires a little bit of fun. 

Everybody has a different process, in fact I have a page dedicated to my process for client work. However, I thought it would be interesting to go over my process of creating the icons I’ve made outside of client work by actually walking you through the creation of yesterday’s Icon a Day. 

Concept

There are 3 stages to my process for Icon a Day, first is the idea. Coming up with an idea is easiest when you’re doing client work, the client tells you about what they need and all you have to do is take the time to understand their needs. However, when you’re doing your own project it’s on you to figure out this step yourself. What do you want to do? This is the part that challenges me the most when creating for Icon a Day because there is literally a world of possibilities.

One thing I like to do is find icons that other people have done and come up with my own take on the idea. I will of course never copy someone else’s work, but sometimes some inspiration can get my gears turning. Sometimes, though not often, I will find a previous icon of mine that I’m not really a fan of anymore and make another attempt. Most of the time however I take inspiration from my other passions, or problems I want to solve. 

This time around I’ve decided to go back to my love of music. Looking at Icon a Day #114, which I’m still very happy with, I don’t think the vinyl record was all that interesting visually. I know I can do something better. 

Sketches

When I’m doing client work, or any larger project, I often go through many iterations of sketches until I find something I’m happy with. Because of the limited time I have doing my daily icon, I only make one, maybe two, sketches of my idea. It’s important for me to get these ideas down on paper, for me it feels more tactile and personal, like I’m actually creating something real even though the final product will only exist as a collection of bits. 

I have kind of an idea of what I want to do in my head. I want a vinyl record sticking slightly out from it’s slip case so I’ve done a pretty rough sketch of what is in my head. This serves as a blueprint of sorts for the final vector art I’ll create in the next step. It’s far from perfect, as I am not very good at drawing, but it gives me the visual assistance to actually build the icon on the computer. 

Illustration

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No matter what kind of project I’m working on, this step is always pretty much the same. I launch Sketch, create an art board at the size I want to create the icon at, and get to work. My first step is to recreate the sketch without adding any color or flourishes, at this stage I may add a few details here and there that weren’t in the sketch in order to add character. 

As soon as I have the basic shapes down I begin adding color, shadows, highlights, and other bits of flair to make the icon that much more pretty. As I work I may find myself making changes and adjustments to the geometry, seeing things come together can reveal some minor imperfections or inspire ideas to make the icon that much better. 

Experimenting is a huge part of this stage of the process, but because I generally try to finish my daily icons within 1 to 2 hours I eventually have to put it down and post what I have. No matter the size of the project though, I always take the time needed to make sure everything is pixel-perfect since blurry edges can ruin an otherwise good design. 

And when it’s all done, it’s ready to post…