Why standardizing iconography matters

Certain icons and symbols are universally recognizable. For instance, a red octagon is understood by drivers as “stop” even before the four white letters on the sign are legible. Before road signs were standardized, a cross-country trip could see drivers encountering roads marked with a plethora of unique symbols, all trying to communicate the same thing:

You can imagine that this led to confusion and many accidents that could have been avoided had drivers been presented with a more recognizable sign of what came ahead. 

Let’s picture all the media put out by our university as a network of roads, leading our viewers to their final destinations (the information or action they are looking for). Each link on a website or reference to a different piece of media in print is like an intersection. It is up to us to mark those intersections clearly. 

Most viewers will come in contact with multiple pieces of media from different units, departments, and offices on the way to their destination. For example, a student considering applying will likely visit the admissions website as well as the site of their preferred program of study. They may also visit the housing or financial aid sites and receive information in the mail.

That's why it isn't enough for each campus unit to standardize the icons they use within their own unit. It is important that the icons and symbols that we use across all of these applications are consistent so that this student can spend less mental energy trying to find the relevant content and have more mental energy to consume it. 

An icon is not necessary in every case, but when you decide to use one for a common action or destination, utilize the standard symbols we have made available through our design standards. The icon set is available in several different colors and styles, allowing you to use the one that fits best with your design. As of right now, we have only released a set of icons that cover the most common actions and destinations. You may have to supplement our standard icon set with some of your own custom icons, or some from a site like for more unit- or program-specific imagery. 

If there are icons that you believe should be included in our set, please get in touch. Our plan is to keep adding to this library to move closer to the goal of one red, octagonal stop sign.