If you want your app or site to say a lot with very little, icons are the way to go for establishing behavior and purpose.

Once upon a time early internet users were bombarded with CLICK HERE! messages peppered all over a website's front page. Not only was this approach abrasive but, to a degree, insulting! Now with one glimpse, several key pieces of info can be gleaned at once. This is especially useful for information flow, mapping, and planting subtle connections that enhance your brand.

With icons, you can also compartmentalize content while keeping your front page looking clean, as shown by a simple yet effective downward arrow on Buzzfeed’s front page banner:

What's even better is that hovering the mouse over the arrow icon releases the new window of subtopics rather than requiring the user to click:

One might take such a function for granted, but this one-two punch is just another example of the many little things you can do with icons that make user experience that much better.

Beyond navigation, icons also add subtle associations that bolster a brand's reputation. All those social media icons for Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. that you see at the bottom of sites shows both where a brand has presence and how much they value customer interaction across a diverse set of platforms.

Even emojis have started standing in for modern lexicon. They’ve become such a staple in online communication that major media publications peppers them into social media posts. Instagram even lets you incorporate hashtags just for emojis. Communication, after all, is 🔑.

As Shakespeare said: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” With icons, we can be all the more wittier with fewer characters. Click here for a list of free downloadable icon sets you can use for your next app or site— remember: the simpler the better!

For more info on UX design, check out our upcoming slate of UI/UX classes here.