The New Etihad Airways Icon System by Picons

Beside crafting new stock icons and custom add-on icons compatible to existing Picons icon collections, such as Basic & Thin, I also design individual icon systems adapting to the client’s brand.

Few years ago, I had the opportunity to create a brand-new icon system for Etihad Airways. For those not familiar with, Etihad Airways is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates with its home in Abu Dhabi.

This was a great challenge and pleasure for me, not just because I was tasked to design 200+ custom icons, but because I could craft a unique icon system for a global audience. Designing airline/airport icons might just be the dream of every (icon) designer out there.

At the end, and over a period of 3 years, we did create more than 400 icons.

I. Feeling the Brand

Designing an individual icon system starts with learning the client’s brief and brand guidelines. The icons, as a part of the corporate identity, play an important role in presenting a consistent image of a powerful and successful brand.

A central role in Etihad’s identity plays the Facets of Abu Dhabi.

The Facet exists in the Etihad wordmark and is drawn from the traditional Islamic design and modern Arabian architecture producing an effect that is precise and aesthetically pleasing. This pattern is found to appear consistently across our home Abu Dhabi as an architectural feature and design pattern, thus subtly adding to a seamless experience.

From the Etihad Brand Guidelines, 2016

II. Exploring the Icon Style

We tried 3 different design approaches, to figure out which one would work the best: outline, glyph and a combination of both.

Style A: Thin outline icon style (consistent stroke weight, round & miter joins combo)
Style B: Glyph icon style with triangular “negative space”
Style C: Outlines (2 stroke weights) + filled shapes combo

The client chose to go on with outlines. The final icon style has adopted the combination of rounded and sharp corners. All icons share the line strength of 1 pixel. And there is the golden facet.

The Facet
When creating an individual icon system for a brand, you just need to implement something unique into them. Icons need to be obvious, that’s why great icons are using well-known metaphors. Although when speaking of the icon style, we don’t want icons to look too generic or special, just for the sake of being special. That’s where the Facet plays an important role. 

Final icon style

Each icon in the system includes a little golden Facet. It is connecting the icons to the brand and let the icons stand out from your everyday stock icons.

III. Defining an Icon System

The Construction
On of the first tasks, after figuring out the icon style, is defining a grid. It is important that the icons sit on the pixel so they are always crisp and sharp (pixel-perfect).

Although pixel-perfect plays no role in print and when used on retina displays, it’s still considered as the best practice for crafting large icon systems.

IV. Showcases

Disclaimer: Images courtesy of Etihad Airways

Case study: Custom icon design project for Synergis Software

Besides creating own icon collections, I’m also offering custom icon design. And I’m one of the few designers doing custom icons at Iconfinder.

The custom icon project for Synergis Software was complex, as the client asked for a coherent set of 150+ icons to redesign their window-based application (an engineering document management product). The requested style of the icons was black outlines with a little color. A perfect case to use the foundation of the Picons Thin collection and extend it with color.

Synergis Custom icons Examples

So the first steps, after studying the brief, were to define the grid (I’ve choose 24px), corner rounds, stroke weights and color palette, as the basic elements that will define the visual language of the complete icon set.

Custom icons - Style guideline

Larger icon collections require not only to follow a grid but also strict style guidelines that will define the character of a collection. When this fundament is built, creating a large icon set is fun as those design elements get repeated throughout the set to tie all icons together as a whole.

Synergis Custom icons Samples

Our friends at Iconfinder also wrote a blog post about this custom icon project.