Professional Software Icons For Your Standalone Application

Professional software icons for your standalone application
User interfaces and accessibility are some of​ the​ most important aspect of​ an​ application .​
It can have a​ million features,​ it​ can do a​ thousand things once,​ but if​ it​ doesn't look quite right then it​ will be a​ disaster .​
Take Linux for example .​
This open source (free) operating system has been around for quite a​ while,​ and it​ has been very appreciated for its stability and speed .​
However,​ in​ its earlier days it​ lacked a​ user interface,​ which made it​ very unattractive to​ the​ general public .​
While a​ few years back Linux was used only by system administrator and computer freaks,​ Microsoft's Windows was all over the​ place,​ pumped up by its friendly user interface,​ even though it​ had a​ lot of​ bugs and was very unstable .​
Today's things are quite different .​
People have learned from their mistakes and now,​ most operating systems,​ including Linux,​ use a​ graphical interface and are very user-friendly - things that in​ the​ past you​ could do by writing lines and lines of​ instructions,​ you​ can now do with a​ few clicks .​
This major improvement has brought in​ a​ whole new class of​ users,​ and the​ popularity of​ this operating system has increased considerably.
This is​ why the​ user interface matters a​ lot to​ the​ average computer user,​ and icons are one of​ the​ most important issues at​ matter .​
But why use icons and not plain text? Well,​ icons are visual mnemonics,​ that is,​ they are easier to​ remember .​
We see an​ icon a​ few times (or maybe once) and we learn it,​ and afterwords we associate the​ image with a​ certain action .​
The same thing happens with text,​ but it's a​ lot faster to​ read an​ icon than it​ is​ to​ read a​ text,​ which makes icons a​ lot more recommended .​
Furthermore,​ adding icons to​ the​ important components of​ your application will sometimes save you​ from the​ frustration of​ answering the​ users who are not very familiar with the​ application and have trouble finding out how to​ use a​ certain feature .​
For example adding a​ question mark icon next inside the​ help button will make it​ easier for users to​ figure out where they can get help.
Today's developers know that users will learn how to​ use a​ certain application a​ lot faster if​ its interface looks like the​ applications they are already familiar with .​
Take for example a​ Mac: can you​ see how all applications look pretty much the​ same? So it's really easy to​ start using new applications,​ and you​ don't have to​ read the​ manual to​ see what each button does,​ because most likely you'll figure out that on​ your own .​
But there are two sides to​ this: if​ all applications look more or​ less the​ same,​ where is​ the​ uniqueness? Then again,​ if​ the​ application is​ totally unique,​ users might find it​ difficult to​ get acquainted with .​
So the​ best way to​ go is​ to​ use an​ interface that combines both these rules - not an​ average looking user interface,​ but also not a​ totally unique one .​
It's easy to​ get stuck with this idea,​ but this is​ where icons come in.
Icons are the​ easiest way to​ differentiate your application,​ while still keeping a​ note of​ familiarity .​
Most developers have found it​ very efficient to​ replace the​ operating system's stock icons with their own custom-made icons .​
How? Well,​ start with the​ little things .​
Try adding shadows to​ icons,​ or​ maybe apply different effects (emboss,​ blur,​ add a​ border,​ etc.) using a​ graphics editor .​
Another approach is​ to​ change the​ icon's colors .​
Make them all blue,​ yellow,​ or​ some other color you​ might think it​ would look great with the​ rest of​ the​ interface .​
a​ toolbar with enhanced,​ yet similar buttons (for example replacing the​ New,​ Open,​ Save,​ Print,​ Cut,​ Copy,​ Paste icons) really improves the​ overall interface .​
After replacing the​ icons,​ it's a​ lot easier to​ make the​ next step and start changing colors.
But what to​ do with these old-fashioned users that like to​ keep it​ simple? How about people with special needs,​ who might have problems reading small texts or​ seeing some colors .​
Also,​ there must be a​ way for all the​ people - and it's really a​ mystery here - who like the​ same old icons and colors on​ all their applications .​
Fortunately,​ the​ answer is​ simple: different application skins! It's a​ good idea to​ have a​ standard skin for the​ users who like to​ keep it​ simple,​ offering the​ basic features in​ a​ really easy to​ use manner,​ and then to​ create a​ few more enhanced skins for the​ people that like different interfaces - big fat buttons with shiny icons for the​ main applications features,​ or​ perhaps lots of​ toolbars with many buttons for advanced users .​
Again,​ the​ easiest way to​ creating new skins is​ changing the​ icons and colors .​
You don't really have to​ change the​ layout of​ the​ application and move all the​ toolbars/buttons/windows around,​ for it​ might require sometimes too much work .​
But replacing icons is​ really easy .​
Voila! you​ have a​ new skin!
Today's computer applications are focusing more and more on​ graphics,​ and especially icons,​ while text interfaces are becoming less popular .​
The modern applications' interfaces use icons and text as​ well,​ but paying a​ special attention to​ icons .​
This way it's a​ lot easier for users to​ learn how the​ application works,​ so therefore they will accomplish their tasks quickly .​
An intuitive interface and standard behaviors don't require much explanation,​ and a​ well-designed application must not get into the​ user's way,​ but must provide fast access to​ its most important features .​
This is​ the​ general rule which brought Microsoft millions and millions of​ dollars for it's main product - the​ Windows operating system - so why shouldn't we follow their example?

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