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World of Icons in Action

By 18. June 2020December 3rd, 2020No Comments


World of Icons in Action


Icons, symbols, pictograms – graphically abstracted information is present in all situations of life. In technical communication, we ourselves like to use them frequently. Here, two development stages of the user interface of a heavy load transporter are analyzed, alternatives are researched and the design is revised. ISO 7000, EN 80416 and the implementation in illustration tools are taken into account.

What to do?

  • Familiarize yourself with the tasks and operation of the transporter.
  • Analyse the current implementation of the icons for operation.
  • Develop improved icons for operation.
  • Realize icons in the illustration tool.
Familiarize with the tasks and operation of the transporter

Without comprehensive knowledge of the product, its tasks, its technical context and its operation, an optimal development of icons for operation is not imaginable. This knowledge is complemented by the necessary insight into the local area of use and its users.

Either the icon developer is familiar with the product information because he is part of the development team, or he is able to familiarize himself adequately as an external person. Both variants have disadvantages. If the icon developer is too strongly connected to the product, he can hardly part with known implementations and get involved with the user’s view. For the external icon developer, it can be difficult to familiarize himself with complex products and to meet industry requirements.

For both, however, it is difficult to analyze the situation at the place of use and that of the operator. In the industrial environment of special purpose machine construction, for example, it is hardly economically possible to implement theoretical specifications such as user tests and analysis of the local training level. The solution should be as far as possible standards-based and culturally and linguistically neutral.

As an example the icons of the operation of the heavy load transporters KGT 20/10-880 and KSC 900 of KIROW ARDELT GMBH are considered. The heavy load transporter is used for the construction of concrete bridge sections rail-bound transport systems.

  • Transport load up to 900 t
  • Semi-automatic transport
  • Location China and Taiwan

Two versions of the Heavy load transporter, KGT and KSC

Analyze current implementation of the icons for operation

The example of the icon “Speed Slow” shows the weakness of metaphorical implementations.

Icon “Slow speed”

The icon " Slow speed" uses the metaphorical statement of turtle = slow. In the field of use, however, the turtle has mainly the meaning of "wisdom" and "constancy" but also "pimp" and "brothel owner". This shows how carefully metaphorical statements should be used.

Marco Jänicke

The icon ” Slow speed” uses the metaphorical statement of turtle = slow, which is widespread in Europe. In the field of use of the transporter, however, the turtle has above all the meaning of “wisdom” and “permanence” ( For example, the icon could be interpreted as activation of the energy saving mode. Even more unpleasant are the meanings “pimp” and “brothel owner” (, which can probably be ignored in this context, but show how carefully metaphorical statements should be used. The icon still has no complete statement, only “slowly” is tried to show, but an “object” is missing completely.

Develop improved icons for operation

The icon “Speed Slow” is to be redeveloped for better culture-neutral recognizability.

What should the icon’s message be?

Driving speed of the transporter limited to the speed slow.
Icon Object = Transporter
Icon statement = drive slowly

What is the functional context?

The transporter must drive slowly to the transfer point of the concrete beam. There is a fast drive for the free transport route. And there are other parts of the transporter that can drive, namely the transfer carriage for the transfer of the concrete beam.

The icon must therefore show the transporter and slow driving and whether this function is activated or deactivated. With this simple and systematic preliminary work it is possible to develop a systematic set of easier to learn icons. For this purpose EN 80461-1 (General principles for graphic symbols on equipment – Design of graphic symbols) is applied with:

  • Creation procedure
  • Design rules
  • Design principles
Create icons in the illustration tool

The realization and management is done in Corel DESIGNER. As graphically simple as icons and symbols may be, some thought should be given to their systematic creation.

If the graphic objects are created as lines, they must have the property “scale with object”. Without this property, the objects would appear disproportionate to the size of the icon when scaled and would even flow into each other when scaled down. Unfortunately, this property also has the disadvantage that “quasi-hairlines” are created when the icon is scaled down significantly, and depending on the publication method and medium, these may appear interrupted or even not be displayed at all. The solution to this problem is to display all objects as shapes and to give the shapes a defined outline, slightly thicker than a hairline. This additional outline, this time without the “Scale with object” property, is irrelevant for large icon representations, but it prevents the creation of “quasi-hairlines” when the icon is reduced to a large size, whereby a somewhat disproportionate ratio of objects to icon size must be tolerated.

With Corel DESIGNER, icons can be effectively managed and created in symbol libraries (CSL). These symbol libraries correspond to normal DESIGNER files, but contain symbol definitions. The symbol library is also a template for creating new icons. The template (CDT) contains:

  • Pages that can later be printed as a catalog, with instances of the icons from the internal symbol library.
  • One page per icon in the size of the basic figure according to EN 80416-1. These pages have two layers, one with the basic figure and one layer with the icon itself. The icon here is already referenced as a symbol.
  • One page per standard content for icons in the size of the basic figure, such as the basic square, the basic circle and other repeating product- or company-specific content. These pages also have two layers, one with the basic figure and one with the standard content for icons themselves. The standard content for icons here is also already referenced as a symbol.
  • In general, this file contains styles, without which no graphical object should be created, and minor adjustments of the software behavior.

The Corel DESIGNER icon library comes with a customized workspace (CDWS) that contains keyboard shortcuts and command bars for the required styles and commands typical for the illustration task.

The working method would then be as follows: First, the graphic objects are created as a line with a style (2 or 4 mm outline). If their appearance is as intended, the outlines are converted into objects, i.e. shapes, and a style is assigned using a keyboard shortcut. Depending on the objects, it may make sense to merge individual objects. Any characters from fonts should also be converted to curves in order to avoid stressing the subsequent processes and to maintain fidelity of illustration.

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