When making an icon or a logo it might be very tempting to push and reduce it to the limit to achieve the absolutely minimal symbol.

For example: tiny photo of a floppy disk -> cartoonish picture of a floppy disk -> stylised floppy disk icon -> flat/metro/modern floppy disk icon -> solid blue square.

Is there any non-subjective way of deciding where is the line between skeuomorphism and ultra-minimalism?

PS: I am asking this as a developer who has to design GUI and occasionally icons and who is interested in identity design.

PPS: shouldn't there be an "art-direction" tag?

Related links:



  • Hi Den, really interesting question you got here. Let's see if there are any 'experienced art directors' here who can give you a solid answer. As for your PPS: you can create tags yourself if you want, but I don't think "art direction" is going to be used much.
    – PieBie
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:01
  • @PieBie Hi! Yeah, I was not sure about that :) - removed it now. Creating tags requires more points than I have.
    – Den
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:35
  • best to avoid creating new tags if possible, as using existing ones will give your question more visibility
    – Luciano
    Dec 14, 2015 at 14:02

4 Answers 4


I've designed minimalist icon sets and there are three factors which, together, make for a pretty clear indication of where the line should be. In order of importance:

  1. Usability (which, ultimately, is what icons should be for) - the most important line is the point beyond which where more minimalism makes it slower and less automatic to see what the icon is supposed to be, in context. Three important notes:
    • If you don't already, test your icons on people who aren't involved in the project to make sure they really do look like what you want them to. Don't just guess, you're too close to the material to reliably make this call.
    • Test them in context
    • Remember that people don't look directly at icons and study them (and if they have to, you've failed), they need to be something that catches the right users' eye and is obviously what it's supposed to be while the user is not lookng directly at them.
  2. Consistency - you want your icons to have the same level of minimalism, which typically means, having the same level as whatever the most difficult to represent item in your icon set is.
  3. Any additional brand style requirements - does you brand style favour sharp angles or curves, geometric perfection or the organic look, etc etc?

Typically, you'll need to be very slightly under the level of minimalism required to make the most difficult item in your set simple and clear, in order to be able to make the set consistent with the rest of your brand style.

  • 1
    I think this answer is great. I make a lot of icons for mobile apps and I apply the same three factors to my designs. Another point to consider: In addition to the shape of the icon the way it moves/changes colour or interacts with the other elements on the screen also help inform the user of it’s function. I’ve been designing a lot for Android using Google’s “Material Design” principles – designing UI elements to appear as if they’re made out of paper. They use layering, movement and interactions to highlight states and actions. I've found this really useful for creating clear UI.
    – Annie
    Dec 14, 2015 at 17:36

Is there any non-subjective way of deciding where is the line between skeuomorphism and ultra-minimalism

First of all, skeuomorphism isn't just about something 'looking realistic'. It is just as much about how one interacts with the object.

In your case, I think you're asking about 'realistic' icons vs. 'symbolic' icons.

As for a non-subjective way of deciding...ask people. Research. Create your icon, show 10 people, see what the feedback is.

And remember that context plays a huge part in one's ability to decipher an icon. The same icon in two different contexts may produce very different results in terms of testing feedback.


There is no too simple, only unclear.

Simplicity is about style, clarity is about information. As long as users know what an icon means without having to decode it, it works from an information perspective. Solving the style is a brand standards concern.


First of all: Do not be misguided by "Modern Art Concepts". There can be some really stupid concepts https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist's_Shit that some people call "Art".

But yes, there are some interesting explorations that can be valid in the area of design.

Here is an interesting question: Whose persona should I consider while designing my portfolio? Where I diferentiate the Person which is important in diferent cases. Mainly a diferent aproach between Art and Design.

In Art, the "Important" Person is the artist that could be or not could be trying to comunicate something.

But in design there are some parctical factors to consider.

1) What message does my client or project try to communicate?

2) Can my reciver decodify that message?


The important word here is Communicate...

Common + icon

And to understand the word icon here we need to study some semiothics.

The idea is that the different participants on the common+icon must understand and share this images, the elements, the symbols. Which could be or not could be in Art.

If your image does not have this intrinsec elements inside, yes it still can function over time by repetition.

My Kids have rarely used a paper folder, but by repetition they understand what a folder is. Most people have never used a wrench or a gear, in fact, with the electronic miniaturization moving parts are less desirable each day. But you could still use a well cultural known images or a Quantum electron jumping from energetic levels based image.

Enough elements to have a style

We also need an aditional charge of elements to have an unified vision with other elements, with other icons of the same style.

Shape. A rounded or square set of icons. Besides the base shape of the icon itself.


Surroundings a background, a negative space.

Details A flat one, a glossy aqua style.

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