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Perspective: A Mid-Life Hobby

Hey there! Guess what. I now design simple icons. Because the words don’t always flow from my fingertips, I needed a new hobby to keep my creativity in check. As someone who has always appreciated graphic design, I admire how digital artists create icons that represent something in a clear and concise way. So, I decided to give it a go, and I love it.

A Mid-Life Hobby

Actually, I lied. What I design are glyphs, not icons. The difference is that a glyph is an easily recognizable symbol that can be represented in black and white and everybody will understand what it means. An icon includes both the glyph and the design around a glyph, like the buttons on your smart phone or a multi-colored indicator in the software we use. Here are some examples. On the top, we have four glyphs. On the bottom, we have their icons counterparts.


Before starting, I should have done more research and watched more tutorials on YouTube to learn about the basic principles of glyph design. Instead, I jumped in and tried my hand at what is a complex and nuanced art form. Unsurprisingly, the results weren’t great. Lines were too small and too large at the same time. Proportions were wrong. It was a mess.


So, I went back to basics and did the research I should have done in the beginning. The more I dove into the jungle of vines and quicksand that is the internet, the harder and easier it seamed. Some of it I already knew, like the fact that a glyph should be simple, yet effective at communicating an idea or concept. What I didn’t know was how to accomplish that.


With a little bit of know-how and a whole lot of naivety, I returned to creating glyphs for AuthorsSpot.com, which I talked about in my last blog post. This time, I re-drew very common icons like the old-school handheld phone that the younger generations have never seen in real life, but we all know so very well. This round of glyphs turned out far better than my last ones, but the online examples always turned far out better than my own. Not surprisingly, the work of well-trained graphic designers is far sleeker than a novice.


Undiscouraged, I turned to the internet for an even deeper dive. One of the reasons my glyphs never looked right was that I never lined up my edges with pixels. A pixel is one tiny square of light that comes from your computer or smartphone screen. All the pixels of light combine to make up what you see. When images don’t match up with pixels, your device spreads a sharp line between several pixels, which blurs them out.


Something that was counterintuitive to me was that smaller glyphs often turn out clearer. If my art board is too big, it is harder to get the proportions exactly right for the screen–or as they say, “pixel-perfect.” If your computer has to compress a large image into a smaller space, it won’t turn out well. So, making it smaller to begin with so edges can be perfect makes it much cleaner.


Another problem I stumbled into was that when I placed my glyphs next to each other, they looked chaotic and anything but attractive. Without forethought, I had copied examples from different places online. The various artists used different line widths, some sleek and skinny and others bold and fat. Some of them had rounded corners and others sharp angles. My phone was filled in with black and my camera was outlined. It was a mess.


Then came the task of finding consistent glyphs to copy. It turns out that there are a bunch of sources, mostly free. Google Materials offers over 1500 free samples with a single design style. Apple’s SF Symbols program has over 4000 branded glyphs. While I found Apple’s style more attractive, it proved harder to emulate. My attempts at their finely tuned curves never added up, which decided it: Google Materials.


Practice makes adequate. Along the way, I learned more about the software I use, which helped make crisper lines and precisely rounded corners. Not surprisingly, I got better as I went. The results were far from perfect, but good enough to fool someone at first glance.


Armed with a rudimentary grounding in what it takes, I returned to my goal of designing unique glyphs for my website. Not surprisingly, with so many versions of each symbol already available only a single image search away, coming up with something new was impossible. All I could hope for was a consistent style.


The number of attempts that I scrapped far outnumbered the ones I kept, but the end result was far better than expected. My “final” glyphs skewed towards Google’s design aesthetic, but I’m happy with them–for now.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with this new hobby. It allowed me to be creative and experiment with a new medium. I plan on continuing on this adventure, trying on different aesthetics and expanding the number of glyphs I design in each style. In the end, I’m really proud of myself for trying something new. I anticipate that glyphs will keep me out of trouble for a while to come. Well, mostly out of trouble.


 

As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.



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