Iconfinder designer report Q1 2021

Invoking the superpowers of the icon designer community

We live in extraordinary times when our lives are shaken up and our routines readapted by forces out of our control. This is the time of staying at home, of exchanging personal gatherings with virtual ones, or of exploring the great outdoors when possible. It is the golden age of food delivery and online shopping, and perhaps the digitalisation of all that had remained face to face until now.

Like any other new situation, it doesn’t come unaccompanied, but brings along joy and bitterness alike: cleaner air, more silence, the rediscovery of love for cooking, time to read the books earlier put aside, growth for some businesses, loss for some others, more family time for some, less for some others, definitely fewer hugs, more loneliness, more disconnection, a larger need for self-care and for good mood.

In this unfamiliar reality, we keep looking for ways to bridge the gaps that have formed between us, by using the tools and talents each of us have. You don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse to make a difference when you have an equally important superpower: designing the language that everybody understands. And what better moment to make that language uplifting, inspiring, hopeful, positive, rich, and diverse?

By sharing data and news from the icon market, this designer report is an endeavour to guide you to create the icons we all need.

P.S. All data shared in this report is also gathered in this sheet, for easy access.

Features and improvements for designers at Iconfinder

In spite of a turbulent year 2020, not everything has been bad news. At Iconfinder, we have brought to you some new features and functionalities that can help you as a contributor. In case you missed them, here is a summary of what is new and how it can be useful to you.

New icon search engine

In September, we launched a new search engine for icons. Compared to the previous version, which did not differentiate between the time an icon was downloaded, this new engine gives a higher weight to newer downloads. This way, icons that are recently downloaded will rank higher in the results and the results stay more up to date with the demand trends.

Tip: Uploading the right icons at the right time will give you more visibility than before.

How things are named and labeled has become more important also. Besides tags, whenever customers make a search, we now look in icon set names, family names and designer names when returning the results. For example, a search for “business” will naturally show results of icons tagged with that keyword, but also return icons from sets that have that keyword in the set name — for instance a “Business Essentials” set.

Tip: Be mindful of how you name your sets and icon families. Choose a designer name that is easy to remember and easy to spell.

Read more about the new search engine.

Staff picks

Staff picks (previously called “featured”) are icon sets that the Iconfinder team considers of high quality, relevant to current events, and original in their concepts or design. When we feature a set, it ranks higher in the search results, customers can find it when filtering (there is a filter for showing only staff picks), it is published on our Pinterest page (where it receives around 15 million monthly views) and it can be included in recommendation emails to customers. Learn how we choose the Staff picks.

Tip: Striving to create beautiful and unique icons that stand out from the rest can bring you higher visibility and, consequently, higher earnings.

Improved Sales analytics

Earlier in March, we also launched an improved version of the Sales analytics tool, which you have probably already noticed. Here you can more easily check your icons and icon sets ordered by sales for a chosen time period. Additionally, you can also check if there are any tag issues — for instance, if some icons have too few or too many tags. Read more about the updates to Sales analytics.

Tip: Know your best selling icons and your worst selling ones. Create more of what sells and less of what doesn’t. Make sure you keep tags between 2 and 7.

The new 3D style

Following the development in 2020, graphic design has shifted in a direction opposite to the world news. When the world feels dark and unfriendly, design shines with all its colours. When we are surrounded by bad news, design becomes bright, heartwarming, and relatable.

Some time ago, we saw the culmination of the flat illustrative style. We are now noticing more and more companies that instead use a cute 3D style for their communication. It can be seen as a response to everybody feeling more distant from each other — an attempt to connect. We expect this new style to be widely adopted in 2021 and occupy the same place as the flat style previously had.

The About page for Pitch

Characteristics of the new 3D style

This new style has some particular traits that make it novel and distinguishable.

  • It is created using 3D software: Unlike some past trends which used light and shadow in 2D designs to make them look three-dimensional, these new graphics are drawn using 3D modelling software.
  • It uses bright, happy colours: The colour palettes vibrate with positive energy.
  • It uses rounded and soft shapes: Plump hands and bodies, rounded corners, all are there to create a safe and friendly environment. There are no sharp edges that can hurt us, especially not sharp elbows, knuckles or knee caps.
Source: Pitch homepage
  • It plays with proportions: Tending to be caricaturesque, objects and characters do not stay true to a realistic appearance. Instead, they generally have larger hands and bodies and a smaller head (or viceversa), which make them appear cute and funny.
3D illustration used by Bankia. See the design project in Behance
  • They embrace quirkiness: These designs are not afraid to show their personality as a reminder that we are all eccentric in different ways and that nobody is normal. They might be goofy, clumsy, or childish, like ice-cream too much, or get overly excited about receiving mail. They are not afraid to express themselves and they definitely don’t take life too seriously.
3D illustration for Pitch by Anna Kajda. Source: Dribbble

How to draw good quality 3D icons

  • Get the shapes right: It can be easy to create shapes directly to 3D software, but that might make you overlook the small details like, for example, the anatomy of a hand. It is a good practice to draw the shapes on paper before, to spot what doesn’t work.
3D illustration by Pooria LFA. Source: Dribbble
  • Use 3D software: Some software suitable for icon design can be Blender (all platforms), Cinema4d (all platforms), or 3D studio Max (Windows only), but there are many others out there.
  • Spend time on perfecting the lights and shadows: 3D objects naturally have light and shadow areas, so you need to spend extra time in getting these right. These are an excellent opportunity to add some magic to your designs.
Sauced Up by Reijo Palmiste. Source: Dribbble
  • Choose good textures: Materials become very important in three-dimensional objects and one common pitfall is having your icons look as if made of plastic. In the example below, the icon on the left looks like a plastic doll, with hard materials. The icon on the right has a soft-looking skin and a specific texture for the hair; notice the material of the sweater and the reflection on the glasses.
Left: 3D avatar by SkyClick; Right: Jacob Character by Mathieu L.B.
  • Get the right level of detail: These icons are often used for landing pages or as the main element in apps, so they need to work well in larger sizes — aim around 1024x1024, but think that the icons should be simplified enough so that they keep working well when scaled down.
3D icons used by Revolut. Source: Revolut App

Here is another example of a slightly different approach to 3D from Github’s new homepage.

3D design on Github’s homepage

As a side note, even though this is a trendy new design style, it does not mean that other icon styles are not relevant anymore. The 3D has its own particular application, whereas the other styles keep being very important in other contexts.

How 2020 changed what the world searches for

The corona pandemic not only created a demand for new icons related to the virus, social distancing, hand washing or wearing masks, but also directed our attention to new topics like mental wellbeing and the emergence of an ‘untact’ economy. Let’s see what the search data from Iconfinder shows about these.

Corona-related searches

Here is an overview of the corona-related searches during the entire year 2020. They reached a peak during March and April and have been slowing down since, with a slight upwards trend in November. These sum up to around 10,000 searches per month.

In the last few months of the year, searches for the keyword “vaccine” have doubled.

Mental wellbeing

2020 has also been a year of looking inwards and of taking care of ourselves first amidst a sea of negative news. We noticed a growing trend in searches for keywords such as “psychology”, “mental health”, “anxiety”, “loneliness”, “mental wellbeing”, “self care” and similar.

Below are charts showing the evolution of searches for specific keywords in 2019 and 2020. We are seeing how the interest in some topics has doubled over time.

Total unique searches per month for the keywords: psychology, mental health, and anxiety
Total unique searches per month for the keywords: loneliness, wellbeing, and self care
Total unique searches per month for the keywords: elderly, alone, and depression

We have already seen some good examples of sets on these topics uploaded to the Iconfinder marketplace that help spreading positivity.

Good Morning! icon set by Polina Smirnova
Comforting Things icon set by Victoruler

Ideas for other sets can be: understanding emotions or emotional intelligence, healthy habits, the new normal, staying in touch with friends and family, remote work, among others.

Untact — the new term for the Covid economy

When looking at the search data, we noticed a new word standing out from the rest, for which we didn’t have any icons: ‘Untact’. Becoming popular in South Korea, the term refers to an economy without personal contact, as a consequence of the pandemic and of the measures to minimise the virus spread.

According to this news article from the BBC, the definition of untact is:

‘Untact’ — a combination of the prefix ‘un’ and the word ‘contact’. It describes doing things without direct contact with others, such as using self-service kiosks, shopping online or making contactless payments. Some believe this is a natural progression in a modern society like South Korea, which combines robotic baristas, virtual make-up studios and digital financial transactions with an ageing population and a shrinking labour force.

The news article offers inspiration for new icon set themes — untact economy and society, untact delivery, untact meetings and social gatherings, remote healthcare and social services, social services during covid, digital inclusivity, digital literacy for the elderly etc.

We already have some good examples of sets on these themes, as the one below.

leto: Untact Era icon set by Laura Reen

Most searched keywords of 2020

The table below presents the keywords that Iconfinder visitors searched for during 2020, ordered from most searches to least.

The most interesting keywords for you are those with a supply-demand ratio lower than 1. These are the ones with fewer icons than searches, so there are opportunities to add more icons.

Keywords that need more icons

From the keywords above, we only selected those with a supply-demand ratio lower than 1, which means they offer better opportunities to add icons. The keywords at the top of the list are those with the fewest icons.

Apart from adding more icons, these are also an invitation for better tagging. In some cases, we already have the icons, but customers cannot find them with their searches — for example “3 dots” or “step 1”.

Missing logos and trademarks

Customers are sometimes looking for original and up-to-date logos and trademarked elements on Iconfinder. We compiled a list of searches of this nature for which we don’t have any icons. These icons need to be offered as free downloads, yet they will nevertheless attract customers to your icon shop.

Subsequent searches as inspiration for sets and better tagging

Customers refine their searches. This means they search for something first and then they change the keyword to something else and make a second search.

There are 2 types of subsequent searches:

Type 1. Complementary keywords: These are icons that customers want to buy together. For example, “phone” and “email”, or “ download” and “upload”.

Tip: Use these as inspiration for what icons to include in the same icon set or icon family.

Type 2. Synonym keywords: These are keywords that customers use to find the same icon. Some examples are “money” and “cash”, “file” and “document”.

Tip: Use these to tag your icons better.

The table below shows the combinations of subsequent searches on Iconfinder, from most searches to least.

To make it easier to use, we re-grouped the subsequent searches by the first search term in the table below.

Icons that are specific to Q1

In Q1, we expect a demand for icons related to several events such as:

  • Chinese New Year — February 12. Relevant keywords can be: ‘chinese new year’, ‘cny’, ‘lunar new year’, ‘chinese zodiac’, ‘year of the ox’, ‘prosperity’, ‘reunion dinner’, ‘pineapple tart’ etc. Read more about relevant keywords and concepts for the Chinese New Year.
  • Valentine’s Day — February 14. Relevant keywords are: ‘valentine’s day’, ‘love’, ‘romance’, ‘gift’, ‘cupid’, ‘chocolate’ etc.
  • Carnival — end of February (dates vary for each country). Relevant keywords are: ‘carnival mask’, ‘carnival costume’ etc.
  • Spring — starting in March. Relevant keywords can be: ‘spring’, ‘blossoms’, ‘flowers’, ‘renewal’, ‘sakura’, ‘sakura festival’.
  • Easter — April 4. Relevant keywords can be: ‘easter’, ‘easter egg’, ‘happy easter’, ‘egg hunt’, ‘easter bunny’ etc.

For all these events, icon searches start in advance, so it is a good idea to be early at uploading seasonal icons. The graph below shows how the number of searches for the seasonal keywords evolved during the quarter.

*the dates for some festivities vary every year. The graph shows data for 2020 (Chinese New Year was on January 25, and Easter was on April 12).

Diversity is important when creating icons for seasonal festivities. Whenever the sets include people, pay attention to not limiting yourself to one type of person, but stay open to different skin colour, age, gender, profession, ethnicity, culture etc. whenever it makes sense. To learn more about this topic, check out The issue of diversity in icon design.

We hope that this report has given you some clarity and new inspiration for what icons to create in the first quarter of 2021. We look forward to seeing your superpowers in action.

This report is part of a series that is released every quarter. It crunches data on supply and demand on the Iconfinder marketplace, hoping to lead designers to create the right icons.

All data shared in this report is also gathered in this sheet, for easy access. Icons featured here are from the Saly-3D set by Alzea.

Drop us a message at support@iconfinder.com if you have any questions or feedback.

Are you interested in becoming a contributor on Iconfinder? This is the place to start: Become a contributor.

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Monica Matei

Monica Matei

Community Strategist at Iconfinder

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