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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Icon Designs

The Christian icon of the fish is almost as old as Christianity itself,
here found on the floor of a religious site in Megiddo, Israel.
Notice both ancient Christian icons
have been used in this example
It's estimated by that ten years from now, 60% of all employment opportunities (in 2025) simply don't exist now. Looking back, one could extrapolate from that a slightly lower percentage (the pace of change keeps accelerating), somewhere around 50% of all current jobs, didn't exist ten years ago. Those figures are hard to pin down simply because times and technology change so fast the many such jobs now and in the future simply evolve, some modestly, some drastically. However a bewildering number of jobs today are so new there's barely any statistics on them. And of course, new careers in the future have no statistics. In the area of the fine arts, these changes are not quite so rapid but nonetheless have their impact. Take for instance, the icon designer of today. The first Greek and Russian religious icons (of Jesus) date from the 4th-century; and while I'm sure iconography has its enthusiasts, I'm not one of them. Of course virtually all portraits, are icons if you can stretch them that far in your mind. The first icons involving symbols we would recognize today are also religious--the fish, and the cross (above, right).
I thought all along a four-leaf
clover meant good luck.
This probably means,
"get out and walk."
There's no doubt what this icon means.
The term "icon" derives from the Greek word for "idol." There was even a city mentioned in the Bible called Iconium (south-central) Turkey, (presumably meaning city of idols), now little more than carefully organized ruins. Putting aside the boring details of ancient icons, what about todays icons and the artists who design them? Early icons from the 19th-century were, more often than not, simply business logos. Naturally, while all logos are icons, not all icons are logos. It wasn't until the advent of the automobile and modern-day traffic jams, that the use of icons first soared. When you're driving down the road in your Model T at the astounding speed of 25 mph. you don't have time to read signs saying "the road gets very curvy up ahead." A forward or reverse "S" instantly imparts the same information. Not all traffic icons are as old as the automobile. I can recall the first time I ever saw "PED X-ING." In fact, I saw it several times before I figured out what it meant. Traffic icons tend to cross the language barrier. The red and white STOP sign in the U.S. is exactly the same size, shape, and colors as one in France. Another Icon, coming to the fore in my own lifetime is the circle with a diagonal line through it, meaning "don't."

This became...

As much as the automobile gave a massive boost to the work of the icon designer, the real explosion of icons (in fact, when the term first became common) was with the advent of the computer. If you're wondering what the first computer icon might have looked like, it wasn't actually a symbol at all, but a word --"READY" probably first blinking to life on Microsoft's Altair 8800 around 1975 (that recently?) It was a slow start. Computers were so slow and so lacking in memory back then that real icons were neither needed nor desirable. The menu reigned. That all changed with Apple and its long line of graphic interface software. No, Microsoft didn't invent the "window." Along came the mouse, higher and higher resolution CRT interfaces and suddenly, like the Model T driver, reading "signs" became awkward, slow, and counterproductive. Today, only MSDOS and the computer in our Toyota Prius still use the word "READY."
Early Apple Mac icons...remember these? Some have change,
some still look surprisingly familiar. Others are totally mystifying.

An early Apple Macintosh
Of course the career potential for an icon designer is rather limited (average salary about $44,000 per year). Most of their work is given away to programmers or licensed at only a modest charge. Likewise, the icon designer is really a graphic designer specializing in such work. Nonetheless, the demand for icon designs is steady, if not spectacular, as new icons proliferate, and old icons are modernized to match the "skins" of virtually all software. Early Apple icons look quaintly amusing beside those we use now. However while the icons used today (below) may look prettier, there still remains the problem of deciphering what some of them mean (a critical requirement). Some may need to go back to the digital drawing board, or perhaps await another generation of icon designing ten years from now, artists with the new job title, "3D icon designer." (That is not a joke.)

See anything you like?  Take two, they're small.


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