Motivation behind icons

There is an enormous amount of various pictograms, symbols and icons everywhere around us and if they are designed well, we are often unaware of their presence and using them rather subconsciously.

I’ve always admired pictograms the most, as they have to communicate information visually, often in a fraction of a second and with a minimal possibility of misinterpretation of their meaning.

By symbols we usually mean simple visual signs, which represent a concept, idea or meaning of things, that we can’t express in words.

And the term icon was originally used for a religious picture, but today we use it for more detailed and complex pictures, which can be fancy, have a decorative function or even might be intended to entertain.

Why am I summing it up? Because regardless of all technical terms, GLYPHICONS icons are not typical icons, they were inspired mostly by pictograms and symbols and that’s how they got their simple-looking appearance.

How it began

After school, I started to work in an advertising agency focused on sign-making. In this period of my life, I acquired the most of practical experience with various materials for advertising and printing production.

But once I started my career as a freelance graphic designer, the scope of my everyday work has expanded from printed design only, to web and mobile app interface design as well, almost overnight. During that time, I found myself desperately in need of the source of high quality symbols and icons.

From my previous job, I knew a great collection of AIGA symbol signs, created by Roger Cook and Don Shanosky. Later, as I started to read more about typography and symbols, I discovered Otto Neurath’s Isotypes (work of graphic artist Gerd Arntz) or famous icons made by Susan Kare for the Apple Macintosh. Those have affected me the most, but of course, there were many others which I may not even realize.

I had very low confidence that I could create anything at least remotely useful as they did, but I had to try at least, otherwise I would have been left without a tool I needed so much.

Why they exists

It’s important to say here, that original pictograms worked perfectly in their time, when things looked differently, when it wasn’t necessary to replicate theses symbols digitally and they were used only by people with appropriate education or experience.

So the preview below doesn’t try comparing apples to oranges, it should simply demonstrate the change in visual appearance of things and the need to have icons in more uniform size, as their primal use has shifted from signs and prints, in to user interfaces on various devices we are using today.

AIGA symbol signs, designed by Roger Cook and Don Shanosky
GLYPHICONS icons, designed by Jan Kovařík, version 2.0

There are more reasons that led me to start creating my own set of icons, but here are the most important ones.

Contemporary design

Many monochromatic icons we may found on the internet are derived from outdated pictograms. As time goes by, they gradually ceased to represent the corresponding meaning of things and many of these shapes didn’t adapt, so younger people often fail to understand them completely.

Adaptable and easy to use

My daily work for clients has included the pre-press preparation and design of various prints from business cards to huge billboards, so to have a reliable resource of a quality symbols, which may be colorized, combined together or even magnified to huge sizes without much effort, was absolutely crucial for me.


When I finally found an icon set that would suit me, it was often possible to use only few of them, as they were not consistent and not interchangeable. Therefore, it was necessary to combine more resources, which was both a time and financially demanding process, often with an unsatisfactory outcome.

The result

I spent almost a decade with this project and the first version of GLYPHICONS was born in late 2010. I founded a company for the project named s.r.o. during the year 2012. Six years later, in 2016, GLYPHICONS became a registered trademark nearly all over the world.

Today, in 2018, GLYPHICONS are being used not only by independent designers and developers around the world, but also found their place in a toolkit of many government organizations and the world’s largest companies.

For the future, I have no ambition in creating the biggest icon pack or trying to maximize my profit, but you can be absolutely sure that I will work on these icons and improve them as long as I can.

Jan Kovařík