The facility of the icon

Designer Rob Bartlett, who has created icons for Spotify, Nokia, Nissan and more, talks about the need for more sustainable, inclusive symbols and the iconography ‘hangover’ plaguing brands

Over the course of a 20-year career, designer Rob Bartlett has created icons for the likes of Electrolux, Nissan, Babylon Health and Spotify. And his experience has only convinced him of the simple power of iconography. “Ultimately, it’s the most pure global language there is,” he tells CR. “We all know, or we can all guess at what [a symbol means] in every airport you walk into, and every train station. At that level it’s such a powerful language that can make the world a more navigable, inclusive place.”

Icons aren’t just a critical part of wayfinding. As the digital world becomes, arguably, bloated with features, brands rely ever more heavily on these tiny emblems to guide the way. In some respects, they’re the same kind of invisible glue typefaces are – essential for building a clear, coherent, usable brand, but not something the average person cares too deeply about. Unless, of course, you get it wrong.

“There’s this thing in the icon world where the only icons you should actually ever see are the ones that don’t work,” jokes Bartlett.

Top image: Rob Bartlett’s ‘Econography’ icons, designed to “inspire small behavioural changes”; Above: refreshed Spotify icons

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