In this age of web-development, where static brochure sites are truly old-hat and every client demands interactivity, having a consistent theme for user interaction has become one of the most important steps in realising a successful design.
One of the first lessons of HCI is the concept of interface metaphors – singular design elements that quickly infer an action or result of the user based on familiarity and association. The Recycle Bin and the Folder being two of the most well-known.
On the web, icon design contributes to this hugely, and the success of a site’s design is largely thanks to a consistent icon set. Unfortunately most of us don’t have the time, patience (or talent!) to create an all-encompassing set of icons for a project, and so we must rely on the excellent work of designers around the World to help us on our way.
Here are 5 free icon sets, available for commercial use, that I believe fit the bill over the plethora of icon sets available:
How could I not start with the ubiquitous Silk set. It’s a set that is seen absolutely everywhere, for a very good reason. It’s a huge set of 700 beautifully crafted icons that are free of a strong design-style; able to fit into any design and for any purpose.
I’m particularly fond of this small set of minty-hued icons (apparently inspired by Shaun Inman’s Mint). While they might not find their place in every design, their minimalism and space-saving dimensions deserves giving them a look.
Compact, but useful icon set with a glossy and colourful style. Comes with 4 icons sizes, from 8×8 up to 24×24, for a number of the included icons.
n-design Mini Pixel-Icons
A smart and well-featured set of 320 14×14 icons; particularly good for e-commerce sites, as a good number of credit-card, shopping-cart and basket icons are included. Comes bundled with multiple shades to fit into and brighten up a plain app design.
A huge, stylish icon set that I’ve not seen as widespread in the wild as Silk. Certainly one of the best large icon sets available on the Web.
Most icon sets come prepared with transparent backgrounds, using PNG alpha-transparency. This type of transparency is unsupported in IE6 and produces undesirable results.
The simplest solution to this problem, is to create alternative versions for IE6 in PNG-8 format (which supports 1-bit transparency). A little bit of pixel-pushing will be needed to make them look perfect, but I’ve never had any problems using this workaround. The Pinvoke and Sweetie sets already come bundled with alternative IE6-friendly versions.