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:

FamFamFam Silk

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.

» Download FamFamFam Silk

FamFamFam Mint

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.

» Download FamFamFam Mint


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.

» Download Sweetie

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.

» Download n-design Mini Pixel-Icons

Pinvoke Fugue

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.

» Download Pinvoke Fugue

Closing Note

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.

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