When a new art director started at NC State, one of the first tasks she assigned to me was the creation of a set of icons for University Communications, that could help explain, and draw the eye to, various small sections of copy (quick-facts, call-outs, etc.) across a variety of media.
These needed to be on-brand (bold, angular), and easily “digestable” yet unique enough that they could be seen as ours (and not stock that anyone could purchase and use). I initially wanted to produce full-color or toned icons, but after some testing, it became clear that solid blocks of color would be the best option for all of the designs and designers that might use them. Thus, I decided to employ negative space to define the different parts of the elements — and to make sure I did this in each and every element, to help keep them visually consistent.
I continue to expand on this set, as new icons are needed for various projects, and I continue to wrestle with the same set of design challenges: what object best represents the idea at hand and makes the most sense as part of this set? And how do I render it so it fits in, stylistically?