Call me… Command Z

This unit for my visual media class involved learning Adobe Illustrator and designing icons. The glory of this program, Ai,  is the ability to shrink or enlarge an image and keep perfect clarity. This happens because the program is based on vectors rather than rasters, which means it’s mathematically based rather than just a bunch of dots that pixelate when enlarged.  Pretty cool premise.

The assignment, after learning the program basics, was to design 4-6 original icons, wherein each one communicates a single message. The icon set needed to be consistent and to incorporate the aspects we’ve studied in our design class. So, pretty cool project. Except… I don’t draw. Not even smiley faces. I approached the assignment loaded with misgivings, but with an ace up my sleeve.

The first step was to envision my audience. I chose the consignment shop where I work. We have price tags that we print for each item. I decided that simple pictures for the various categories could help the tags be more easily identified. To keep the shop costs low, I decided to do the categories in one solid color that could change each week with the tags. My category choices for the icon design included office supplies, electronics, games, jewelry, books, glassware and many others. I still felt overwhelmed, so I played my ace.

Sporting goods sketch

I consulted Matt, who is, after all, an internet cartoonist. He sat me down with blank sheets of paper and had me sketch designs for those various topics, and then darken the one that conveyed the message the best.




Next I went to the computer and began my designs– and earned my new name. Command Z is the “undo” button on my computer. It’s my mode of operation, as well as my new best friend.

Jewelry sketch








I used basic shapes and lines, but found this

assignment ridiculously difficult. My puzzle piece to represent the game category gave me an absurd amount of grief. I even opened a jigsaw puzzle and tried to duplicate a piece, but the results were pathetic. Just look –>


Aside from lacking Ai skills, the main problem was that I didn’t “get” icons. I was attempting to draw pictures. I hadn’t realized yet that every ap picture on a smartphone is an icon, as well as all symbols for businesses and everyday life. Think Nike swoosh. Think the recycle triangle. Think “save” on a computer– an image of a floppy disk that high schoolers would not recognize in real life. But they understand it means save because of the picture… because of the ICON.

Once I connected the dots, I saw icons everywhere. At the gym they’re on all the posters, they’re on race t-shirts next to sponsor names, and on clothing we can recgonize the brands in an instant. The ability to shrink the symbol down for a business card or blow it up semi-truck size is a powerful advertising tool.

Armed with my new understanding and helpful comments from my instructor and classmates (as well as Adobe tutoring from Matt), I redesigned my icons to all be the same color. Originally I was demonstrating the various colors we use, but if they were used at my shop, they’d all be printed the same bright color each week. Here they are together, finalized:


The picture frame represents the category of wall hangings. It’s attached here as both a 400 and a 60 pixel diagram. I am very proud of the nail.

The necklace for the jewelry category was the easiest and most fun for me to put together. I deliberately overlapped the beads to take it up a notch and make it look more real– a la Marge Simpson. No, don’t tell me you think otherwise.

Next is the ball, for sporting goods. Just those little lines on it took an hour. Seriously.

And finally, the game category puzzle piece. Voted “Most Improved Player.

I have an entirely new appreciate for icons and the counter-intuitive process that makes the great ones. In the icon world, unembellished  is better. For example, the triangle on most devices means “play” and the square means “stop.” If it’s that simple, might have a chance at success. It’s genius.



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