Murphy’s Hypotenuse—The Unmistakable Power of Icons (Part Two)

By Patrick Murphy | 4 Minute Read

In Wednesday's edition of Murphy’s Hypotenuse, we explored my love for icons, as well as how Canon makes nimble use of a virtual icon flood to effectively demonstrate product attributes in digital cameras.

 Now, we’ll take a look at a couple of different impactful ways that icons drive the world of products and services.

The second reason for increased icon prevalence is that they contribute heavily to the customer experience. They’re optimized ergonomics for our frazzled consumer brains. Today’s product and service markets are complex and saturated  with vast options and an incessant flow of information, and trying to make decisions based on that multitude of information available can be an arduous process. Any time this information can be simplified or summarized, as with icons,it’s an opportunity for a better experience for the customer.

There are quite a few examples of good and bad information delivery with or without icons, but I’ll focus on one to get my point across. Time Warner Cable offers TV, internet, and phone services. The services they offer have gradually shifted, in consumer minds over time, from luxuries (the 80s) to commodities (now), and they are now taken for granted so much that actually shopping for them is seen more as a hassle by many people than an enjoyable experience. Add to that consumer perceptions of TWC being a monopolized utility concern, and you have a couple of ingredients for a platform of diabolical consumer experience.

However, Time Warner has mitigated some of this perceived awfulness through the use of icons:


TWC’s main product page offers this banner of four simple icons, the first three representing their different services, and the fourth a clear combination of the first three describing the ability to “bundle” them. Unlike some tech service companies that flood their websites with so much information that it’s difficult to grasp exactly what it is they’re selling, they’ve stripped down and iconified their entire breadth of offerings into a simple set of graphics. These icons don’t remove the chore-like element of subscribing to these services, but the intuitive and clutter-free interface at least infers some element of ease in the process at the very beginning of the purchasing experience.

Now for the not-so-practical truth about icons—they simply have a cool factor you can’t get in any other design vehicle. A good icon has swagger, and it’s a bold statement of confidence and character. It’s a brand planting its flag with pride on its merchandise.  

Icons draw a buyer in, much in the same way tattoos draw your eyes on people on the street day to day. Due to its simplified nature you may not even understand it the second you lay eyes on it - but when you get it, it burns into your retina and delivers its message. Some of the best logos feature icons – especially newer, emerging companies who cannot be recognized by simply their name or centuries-old trademark


Icons are the little guys in the design world that pack a great punch in so many ways, telling brand stories, making bold statements to define customer experience, and alerting buyers to important features, benefits, technology, and applications that drive the purchasing process in a powerful fashion.

Samantha Harr