Icons for powerpoint presentations

The ultimate guide to PowerPoint icons for presentations

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How many times have you faced a presentation with too much text in it? Have you ever wondered how to squeeze all that important information into the presentation, in a way that ensures the slides are comprehensible?

You can’t summarize more than what you have already done, because otherwise it wouldn’t be readable.  In some other cases, your boss wants as much text as possible on the slides. He probably doesn’t know his speech and he doesn’t think it is worthwhile to rehearse before the presentation. He wants to take part in the “shared reading session” with the audience, instead of offering a presentation. This might give him the feeling of saving time, it dramatically impacts the quality of his communication, most likely causing the audience to fall asleep within the first 5 minutes.

Every presentation is a dialogue with your audience. As a dialogue among people, you must be the focus of their attention during the whole speech, not your slides! If you fill your slides with text, your audience will end up reading the slides and not paying attention to you.

We use slides because they boost our communication and help our audience remember what we say. People remember longer when they visualize (not read) information.

“Remember to Make It Visual if you want your audience to remember the information about your company’s products or services”.

PowerPoint icons for presentations

“Infographics work so well because using text and images together helps people to retain the information. Remember, if it’s just words, people will only remember 10% of the information they read. But if you combine the text with a relevant image, they are likely remembering 65% of the information! While others may choose to work harder by crafting a perfectly written article or advertisement, it would be a smarter choice to use text and relevant images together”. – Randy Krum, author of the book “Cool Infographics”

One of the most powerful tools easily accessible today to everybody  working with presentations is icons. Icons, nowadays, are an effective and powerful way to visualize abstract concepts and ideas. I’m not talking about the ugly and old fashioned clip arts, I’m talking about beautiful vector icons.

“One of the essential objectives of iconography is to help people absorb, retain and process your message more efficiently. When designed well, using icons enriches minimal content by empowering key points without all of the wordiness.

Icons should be used to draw attention to your message and content—not to diminish or supplant it. Assess whether or not an icon would either help or denote the message, and use only with great purpose.

Because icons are universal, it allows your audience to identify with that corresponding icon as an aid to represent your message. They are best used to represent a new section, category, sub-categories and various groups.

Icons come in handy for highlighting new, bold and exciting features within your presentation. Since they have the power to attract attention, they should be used with good intent and placed intelligently.

Icons enhance readability within a deck. Lifeless slides could lose a client’s interest or appear boring and not well thought out. This, however, must take into accordance who your audience or client is. Always be aware of who you’re designing for and what their brand is.

Icons also provide creativity in your company or product. When used creatively, you want to make sure that every message is conveyed in the right manner. – Kaili Miyamoto, Creative Designer at Microsoft

Nevertheless, it still happens that I get clients who forbid designers to use icons because they believe it will turn their presentations into something too childish for their audience.

PowerPoint icons for presentations top expert roundup – Learn from the best!

Beyond my opinion, I selected some of the best Presentation and UX designer gurus and I asked them to contribute to this article and share their opinion about icons. Let’s take the opportunity to learn from the best professionals in the field.

Do you often use vector icons for your design?

Holly Robinson, Presentation Designer, PepsiCo

“Yes, I do. Icons are an essential part of my presentation design toolkit. I keep a library of vector icons illustrating common themes we reference often in our presentations”

Erika Montoli, User Experience Designer, Accenture

“Yes, always”.

Damon Nofar, Presentation Designer & Consultant

“Yes, daily! I use icons in most of my projects since it is probably the easiest way to add some visual elements to your design, and it works as a great complement to your text. And vector icons should be a given for all designers, since it gives the client the highest quality together with the ability to edit colors, outlines, transparency, etc”.

Wrapping up

Yeah! Top experts use icons for their designs and they even suggest you to keep a library of the most used icons. Therefore, I’ll shortly illustrate you how to tap into the biggest repository of icons ever imagined.

For which kind of designs do you think icons are more suited?

Holly Robinson, Presentation Designer, PepsiCo

“Icons work well across many types of design. You seem them everywhere these days; from info-graphics and annual reports, to websites and apps. I feel icons fit quite naturally and beautifully with presentation design to help communicate concepts intuitively. They are especially useful in illustrating key overarching themes in a presentation/report, and giving the audience a visual anchor to follow throughout the story”.

Erika Montoli, User Experience Designer, Accenture

“For website, mobile app, ppt presentation, invitation cards, posters”

Damon Nofar, Presentation Designer & Consultant

Icons can work in any kind of design or project – there are really no limitations in my opinion. It can make the most complex message understandable, and it can also make the clearest message even more minimal and clean. With that said, icons work good in simplifying concepts and processes. E.g. if you have a flowchart or workflow diagram, icons can make it much easier to get an overview and understand the chart much quicker than by just using text.

Wrapping up

Icons are used in every form of design with a large usage in Presentations. Damon suggests icons help you to simplify processes and abstract concepts, as well as Holly, who says that icons improve communication effectiveness.

What are Pros of using icons in your design?

Holly Robinson, Presentation Designer, PepsiCo

“Intuitive communication, consistency and speed. Effective presentation design needs to communicate the core message to the audience quickly and intuitively. Well-chosen, well-designed icons can help telegraph that connection”.

“Icons can also facilitate a consistent style through a presentation. From a production standpoint, icons offer a lot of design impact for a low time investment. In our world of ever-shorter deadlines, they are a quick design solution that’s relatively easy to source or create”.

Erika Montoli, User Experience Designer, Accenture

“Good icons can make the look of a webpage more leasing, reduce the noise of the text and improve the user experience. When done correctly, they communicate the core idea and intent of a product or action, and they bring many nice benefits to user interfaces, such as saving screen real estate and enhancing aesthetic appeal. Other benefits are:

  1. Icons can be compact enough to allow display more content on a relatively small space
  2. Usually no need to translate icons for international users”

Damon Nofar, Presentation Designer & Consultant

“There are many, to name a few:

– Icons are a great support for your content, and sometimes can even replace your content

– Icons can help you cut down on text

– Icons draw attention”

Wrapping up

Holly suggests that icons are a great tool to achieve powerful communication in short matters. When working with presentations, we always work under pressure, as most speakers tackle it last-minute. so icons could potentially save your life. Icons are also a useful way to cut down some text from the slides and visualize contents, as per Damon’s reply. Last but not least, icons speak an international language so they do not require translation efforts, as per Erika’s comment.

What are the Cons/Risks of using icons in your design?

Holly Robinson, Presentation Designer, PepsiCo

“You want to use icons strategically to enhance your communication, but you don’t want to overdo it. Icons are like eye shadow… sometimes less is more. Too many icons in a design project risks creating confusion, rather than building clarity. Another risk is trying to force icons to illustrate overly complex concepts. Icons are, by their nature, simple. A simple icon may not appropriately capture the meaning of a complex concept, while alternatively an overly complex icon defeats its own purpose.

Icons work by simplifying a visual down to basics. However, there may be instances when sacrificing the nuance may work against you. For example, what is an appropriate icon to represent the age group 65+? Eyeglasses? A figure with a cane? Both icons place emphasis on disability and run the risk of offending seniors and perpetuating stereotypes. This is an example where the richer nuances offered by illustration or photography might better serve the communication goals.

Erika Montoli, User Experience Designer, Accenture

“Icons are graphic symbols that refer to objects or actual actions and are used instead of words because they seem more intuitive. However, the icons are not always the best way to represent the data. They work well only when the relationship between the icon and its meaning is automatic and independent from learning. In other words, it is necessary that the icon evokes its meaning implicitly, without interpretation from the user. For this reason, the most functional icons are those that more concretely represent the object or the action to which they relate. If it uses the natural mapping between the action you can perform, and an icon to represent said action, you will get intuitive icons to minimize the user’s interpretative effort and not force him to learn anything new. An example of a natural mapping applied to the icons is the use of “trash.” In this case, the trash icon is used to indicate the action to delete a file; the metaphor fully performs its task and you understand intuitively what action it may make.”

“On the web, in e-commerce sites, a much-used metaphor is the “shopping basket”: it allows, usually, to immediately understand what is that icon, but to make metaphors work, their meaning must be highly shared.”

Damon Nofar, Presentation Designer & Consultant

“Using too many icons can work against you and become a distraction. Another risk is that the icon loses its meaning when used without a clear thought behind it. I work with presentations every day, and see abuse of icons daily. People need to think why they are using icons, and decide if it really adds any value to the communication of that message. Using icons just for the sake of it is a big mistake.”

Wrapping up

Holly notices that icons are simple so they are powerful when they need to illustrate simple concepts. Also, sometimes they can convey the wrong message since they recall stereotypes so they might not always be an alternative to pictures that are clearly richer in details. Erika and Damon agrees on the fact that the icons need to be intuitive because the audience need to immediately understand it without risking any misinterpretation.

How do icons and labels interact?

Holly Robinson, Presentation Designer, PepsiCo

“Icons and labels work together to reinforce the communication. The icon is the visual cue, and the label literally spells it out for them. I don’t generally recommend using icons on their own, unless their meaning has been clearly established. A visual shortcut that confuses the viewer sabotages the design. The objective is always to help the audience understand, not make them work hard or guess. There are many creative and elegant ways to present an icon and its label. That’s the fun part”.

Erika Montoli, User Experience Designer, Accenture

“Text labels are necessary when an understanding of an icon is not based on a previous experience, to communicate the meaning, reduce the ambiguity and improve the user experience. In terms of universal icons such as cart, search, and edit, labels are not necessary. An example of a necessary label icons with conflicting meanings, such as a star/heart. These icons are used for favorite, add to wish list action or rate action. Not only does the precise functionality associated to these icons vary from site to site, but these two icons compete”.

Damon Nofar, Presentation Designer & Consultant

“In my view, the purpose of using an icon is to visualize the text label and make it easier to grasp the message. When the icon and text label are in harmony (complement each other), the communication becomes so much easier to understand and remember”.

“Icons also work great for creating structure in the text layout. E.g. If you have five bullet points in a slide, these look pretty much the same and have no distinction whatsoever. By combining these text labels with an appropriate icon, you instantly create a structured layout that is easier for the audience to follow”.

Wrapping up

Icons can be used to simplify bullet points, combining text and visuals, as per Damon’s comment. As per Erika’s and Holly’s replies, icons and labels need to work in harmony to convey the correct message. Some icons do not need text labels, as they have a clear, universal message, while others need a text label to refer to the specific message.

Where can you source amazing icons for your PowerPoint presentations?

There are multiple websites where you can find tons of free vector icons for your presentations. I’m going to list some top-quality ones below:

Feel free to comment and add relevant websites. Even though you can quickly tap into a huge offer of great free icons online, I’d suggest you to choose the website that you feel more comfortable to use and to go with it. By just focusing on one site, you’ll be quicker every time you use it, as you’ll get accustomed to it. This will boost your effectiveness when you need to source many icons for your presentation.

For the above-mentioned reason, I chose Flaticon, which I find perfect for every use. If you can’t find an icon that represents your concept, it’s often because you are not looking for the right thing. When you scout for icons on these websites, you need to keep in mind that you are not using Google, so the results to your search will be exactly what you looked for, do not expect for related suggestions.

My suggestion is to think of the concept you are trying to visualize. If a specific icon for that concept does not exist, jot down the word and brainstorm related alternatives that could be easier to associate to an icon.

For example, last week I was working on a presentation in the medical field and I had to find a way to visualize Erythema. If you go to Flaticon and type Erythema, you won’t find an appropriate icon for that. However, if you think at it as an inflammation, you could easily visualize it with a fire, which is what I did. Below, you’ll find some examples:

PowerPoint icons for presentations

B&W vs colored icons in PowerPoint

On Flaticon, you will find hundreds of thousands of icons for every category you could ever imagine. The first trick is to make a choice between black & white icons and colored icons. In the following image, you’ll see several icon packages:

PowerPoint icons for presentations

As you can see, there are many beautiful icons and, at first, you could easily get caught by the joy of colored icons, but this is the point where I need to warn you to pay attention. Colored icons are beautiful, but they introduce random colors in your presentation.

PowerPoint icons for presentations

When you design a presentation, one of the very first rules to respect is to be consistent with the color palette across all the slides (learn everything about how to use colors in a presentation in the extract of Lean Presentation Design – read more). Sometimes you build your color palette and you choose the colors, some others you must align with corporate brand guidelines. In any case, you need to respect a guideline and to carefully control the colors of the elements that you introduce in your slides.

Therefore, I always recommend only using black and white icons. I’m not telling you to limit yourself to B&W colors, but to apply to the mono-colored icons the one color that best fits with your color palette. Finally, instead of having multicolored icons with uncontrollable colors that create visual noise, you’ll have all the icons consistent. Remember “less is more”, always.

image02

Which icon format shall we prefer for PowerPoint presentations?

When you choose the icon to download, you’ll have to choose the format you want to use. Let’s see the opportunities that Flaticon gives you:

PowerPoint icons for presentations

NB. We won’t discuss about </> BASE 64 and PSD, because those are not editable in PowerPoint, so we do not need them to design presentations.

Download icons in PNG format

This is a well-known layered image format. It is typically used to create images without backgrounds.

“Def. Portable Network Graphics (PNG /ˈpɪŋ/) is a raster graphics file format that supports lossless data compression. PNG was created as an improved, non-patented replacement for Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), and is the most widely used lossless image compression format on the Internet. (Wikipedia)”

Pros

  • From low- to high-resolution images
    16px to 512px pictures. I recommend you to use 512px pictures. You’ll have the time to compress them in PowerPoint if needed.
    PowerPoint icons for presentations
  • Cutting possible
    Images can be cut in PowerPoint to create nice graphics. For example, download an icon
    PowerPoint icons for presentationsDrag and drop it into PowerPoint (NB. I’m using Google Chrome, so I can drag it from the ribbon below directly).PowerPoint icons for presentationsNow place the icon, and then use the crop function.
    PowerPoint icons for presentationsAs a result, you’ll get the image like it comes up from the outside of the slide, so it seems to be much longer than what it actually is.PowerPoint icons for presentations

Cons

  • Color not editable
    You would better select the color before you download the icon because in PowerPoint you won’t be free to change the color as you like. There is a very primitive image color editing menu in PowerPoint, but I wouldn’t rely on it, as the colors you can apply are mostly ugly and the choice is very limited.
    PowerPoint icons for presentations
  • Hard to update
    PNG Editing rigidity will create a problem every time you need to change it if you don’t remember how you found the icon. For example, you are making a presentation for your boss and you found a specific icon which he liked, but he just wants it to be a different color. You go back to Flaticon to find it again but you don’t remember what it was called and, in the meanwhile, Flaticon has also reordered the icons ranking. Trust me, it could take forever to find icons, even after only a week!

Download icons in EPS format

This is the most flexible vector format you could have in PowerPoint but you need to know a top-secret PowerPoint hack to unlock .eps icons’ editing functions.

Let me show you how to import and edit an .eps icon in PowerPoint:

  1. Download the .eps icon of your choice.

image07

  1. Import it in PowerPoint. Ungroup it.image13
  1. You’ll notice a frame around the icon. At this point, your icon is editable.image18
  2. Click several times to enter the group of items and select the border to remove it.image16
  3. From now on, every piece of the icon will be editable. I’ll apply different colors to the parts, just to give you an example.image20
    image24

Pros

  • Stretch the icons and keep the quality
    Vector icons can be stretched and resized without losing quality, as the vectors are rendered through formulas not through bitmaps. Therefore, every time you stretch the icon, the formulas behind will recalculate and proportionally render it.
  • Customize your icons
    .eps files allow you to edit most of the Flaticon icons. You could take parts away or just color part of them.
  • Change color whenever you want
    You’ll be always flexible to change colors in the icon or to parts of it at any time.

Cons

  • Ungrouping takes time
    You need to ungroup the icon and remove the border to make it ready to be edited, this takes time, especially when you work with many icons

Download icons in SVG format

This is my favorite format because it’s flexible and very quick to edit. In the past, it wasn’t possible to import SVG files in PowerPoint, but recently, PowerPoint 365 began supporting them.

Here’s how to import an SVG icon in PowerPoint:

  1. Download the icons as an SVG file.
    image10
  2. Drag and drop the icon into PowerPoint.image15
  3. Select the icon and change the outline color of it.image17
  4. Now try to play with the filling color.image21

Pros

  • Quick to import
    From Flaticon to PowerPoint, you just need to drag and drop once downloaded.
  • Flexible in colors
    You can change the color in PowerPoint as many time as you want directly in PowerPoint.
  • Stretchable
    Stretch as much as you want because it is a vector format that will not lose quality.

Cons

  • Not editable
    You cannot edit single parts like you would with an .eps

My recommendation is to always work with SVG files except for those icons that need a deeper editing in the way those are built. In those specific cases, go for an EPS and you’ll often be able to edit most of the icon.

Convert fonts in vector icons directly in PowerPoint

Have you ever needed to use a font as part of a logo or for some specific part of your design? In these situations, it becomes tough to work out the exact size of the font in points. Fonts are not comfortable to design things.

The best way to work this out is to convert the font into SVG icons tracing their outlines. Let me show you how to convert a font into an icon:

  1. Type a word and design a rectangle (all shapes would work but a rectangle is easier to overlap).image19
  2. Overlap the rectangle to the word.image22
  3. Keeping the selection as it is, use the fragment optionimage23
  4. Get rid of the parts you don’t need.image26
  5. Here you’ll have your letters turned into iconsimage25

Now that you can turn fonts into icons, you could use this technique for symbols. For example:

image27 1

image28

So, all of the sudden, every symbol included in your PowerPoint becomes an icon.

Create PowerPoint icons for presentations

Turning a font into icons can go much further and let you access to tons of icons you could easily create. Let me show how it works.

Go to 1001fonts.com and you’ll find a huge repository of every kind of font. The cool thing is that the fonts are organized by categories. If you choose icons, 1001 fonts will sort out all the fonts where each letter corresponds to an icon:

image29

  1. Let’s choose a cool one with many icons.image30
  2. Now download this font and install it in your system. My recommendation is to drag and drop the OTF file into the font repository of your computer so that, if the font has many installation files, you won’t have to click and install them one by one.image35
  3. Now open PowerPoint, assign the font to a new textbox and type some letters on your keyboard. You’ll be writing symbols!image36
  4. In order to sort out all the icons from the font you downloaded you would have to type all the letters and the special characters on your keyboard or, keep reading and I’ll reveal you a quick tip. Open the windows character map.
    image31
  5. Select the font you downloaded.image32
  6. Choose the icons that bests suit your needs and click copy (you’ll notice that the character map shows you a zoom of the selected letter to help you visualize your choice – thanks Microsoft!).image33
  7. Paste the icon as a text into a textbox in PowerPoint and the magic will happen! You’ll have imported the glyph as a text.image34Now you know how to proceed to convert these “letters” into editable icons. Using the techniques illustrated above, you’ll get the result shown below (I added some colors).image37

You have now learned how to leverage fonts online in order to source PowerPoint icons for presentations. In order to be much faster, I prepared for you a full map of the main characters of all the fonts. Apply the new glyph font to them in order to have all the characters ready to turn into icons. Let’s see how it works:

  1. Download the character list I prepared for you.

    image38
  2. Apply the font to the character map and you’ll have all characters discovered.image41
  3. Now just proceed to convert the characters you prefer into PowerPoint icons for presentations as shown above.

I led you through this example with just one font taken from one of many font websites. From now on, you can apply these techniques to all the fonts you find.

Use PowerPoint embedded icons for presentations

PowerPoint 365 offered us a lot of inspiration and nice tricks. Amongst these, you’ll find beautiful icons ready to use.

  1. Open the insert menu and launch the icon panel.image39
  2. Choose the category where you think you’ll find the icon you need and double click on the icon.image42
  3. The icon is ready to use and it behaves as an SVG icon (check above for more information).image40

Even though I find this new feature a revolutionary improvement from Microsoft, I never really use it for two reasons:

  • The set of PowerPoint icons for presentations is still very limited so I often don’t find what I need.
  • There is no search function. This forces you to go through the categories and find something like what you need. This process quickly becomes like looking for a needle in a haystack, so I prefer to use flaticon.

Personally, I gave a feedback to Microsoft and I hope they’ll improve this feature, but for now, we need to take it as it is.

Conclusion

Nowadays, icons are a powerful tool to communicate in your presentations. Icons allow you to leverage a picture’s superiority effects thanks to their visual shapes. Moreover, icons speed up your presentation design process, which is very useful when working on last minute presentations.

What do you think about icons in presentation design? Do you know some alternative source for icons?

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