Icons have always been found highly useful in limited digital environments and in diagrams, maps and other forms of visual communication. As a visual shorthand, it can label, inform, and aid navigation quickly and effectively in minimal space. At Think Design, we stepped back to discover how icons have been used from the earliest desktop days – in a pursuit to build on our current understanding, looking to appreciate and learn from the past, and look at the future informed by a lens of insights.
For over 40,000 years humans have communicated using symbols and pictures, long before any form of written language was developed. Derived from the Greek words “eikon” meaning “image” and “graphos” meaning “to write”, “iconography” has evolved historically representing how the meaning of a particular image has been dependent upon its context.
“Iconography, good iconography, strives to convey invisible reality into visible forms” – Peter Pearson
Digitally iconography started evolving 30 years back as computers began having a graphic user interface. Since then style-wise, icons have changed a great deal, but their purpose remains unchanged.
At Think Design, we created 4 separate infographics, each one providing a brief introduction into the iconography of each respective decade; 1980’s, 1990’s 2000’s and 2010’s.
1980s – From text – to icons for graphic user Interfaces
The 80s brought an era where graphic interfaces became popular and led to the creation of icons that were designed with a unique effort of integrating elements of visual art with logical aspects of programming. Integrated for xerox 8010, macintosh systems, iconography slowly took shapes to incorporate pixel art, 3d iconography and introduced more editable and user-customizable, shaded, and skeuomorphic icons. As people moved from using text-based commands, icons generated their first set of visual interactions with electronic devices. This time was marked with icons that were simple and yet had a consistent style.