Designing icons to represent abstract concepts- match test / suggestions

I’m making a site which requires users to review and tag information.

The interface would benefit from icons, but many of the tags represent abstract concepts that I’m struggling to represent. I’m worried some of these are more confusing than helpful.

As a quick test (in a totally non representative group) here are the concepts in a random order, followed by the icons.

  • Do these map without an explanation?
  • Suggestions for the obscure ones?


  1. Legitimate
  2. Accurate
  3. Complete
  4. Precise
  5. Clear
  6. Relevant
  7. Balanced

enter image description here


I hate to say this, because I have some idea of how much thought and sweat equity went into these, but I don’t think most of them map without explanation. I’d venture the following. Parentheses are other suggestions.

  1. A
  2. ? (A circle with a center dot, or cross-hairs)
  3. G (Also a box tied up with string)
  4. ? (Micrometer)
  5. ?
  6. ? (Circle with no center dot, baseball diamond {“in the ballpark”})
  7. F

I hope these are useful. Perhaps I can add something helpful, keeping in mind that it’s hard to give a meaningful response without knowing the audience.

Only three of these icons communicated fairly unambiguously to me, but in some highly specialized context the others might be more meaningful. Part of the difficulty, I think, is that you’re using very different icons to communicate what are really nuanced (and/or progressive) concepts. You don’t say if all of these are independent or if any would imply (and therefore would replace) others.

By a progression, I mean that “Relevant” –> “legitimate” –> “precise” –> “accurate” –> “complete” seem like they follow one to the next; something could not be “legitimate” without being “relevant”, “accurate” without being “precise”, “legitimate” and “relevant”, and so on. That may not be your use case (although I have a hard time figuring how something could be Complete without being Relevant, Accurate, Legitimate, and Precise in any context where these terms would be meaningful.) If it is, represent the progression visually. For example: a dashed-stroke empty circle –> a solid-stroke empty circle –> a solid-stroke circle with a center dot –> a solid-stroke circle with center dot and cross-hairs –> all of the preceding overlaid by a check mark (or a solid green disk with cross-hairs and reversed-out check mark).

Building on a single symbol in this way reduces the visual confusion, indicates hierarchy and is easier for the user to learn and retain.

Source : Link , Question Author : RSG , Answer Author : Alan Gilbertson

Leave a Comment