Make it your own.
There’s no one track to a differentiated symbol; that’s the beauty of the design process. Different designers will think about concepts in different ways, and with luck no two symbols will look the same, even if the concept is universal.
To get in a headspace where you’re receptive to new ideas, play around with shapes and think about different ways you can illustrate the same concept. Ask yourself what words or colors could be associated with the concept. “A cool exercise would be to think of an everyday symbol or brand, like a handicap icon, and try to design a new symbol for it,” says Obermiller.
Base your design on brand guidelines.
If you’re tasked with making a new symbol or set of icons for a company, use the brand guidelines to your advantage. Presumably, the company has spent time differentiating themselves from other brands, and the symbol you design should adopt some of those unique characteristics. “It’s important to stick to the brand kit so that the icons look unique and visually associated with the company,” says Newman.
Experimentation is key.
As you set out to design a symbol, be ready to embrace trial and error as part of the process. “A lot of it is abstracting your shapes and pushing and pulling them to see how you can make a new shape that still reads clearly,” says Newman. Make lots of concepts and rapid iterations, and don’t worry about perfection. Give yourself the freedom to try anything that comes to mind; you might surprise yourself in the process.
To get started, look at different icon designs for inspiration. Sites like Behance are a great way to discover new ideas and designers. “But don’t get too sucked into looking at other people’s work,” advises Newman. “Do what feels right to you. And don’t be obsessed with emulating what is popular right now. You’ll ultimately have a design that’s uniquely yours if you’re not constantly referencing other people’s work.”