The EY Intuitive team worked with a leading pharmaceutical distributor and consultancy to create a cohesive user experience and visual identity across all of its brand platforms using a custom icon library.
How can icon design create a cohesive digital experience?
Our client—a leading company in the global pharmaceutical industry—realized that its users had significantly different experiences as they moved across each of its sub-branded websites. The company lacked a cohesive brand message, which kept it from being able to tell a consistent story about its products and services.
Lead with design
We quickly identified an opportunity to provide a more efficient experience for the user via clear and consistent information design. Our goal was to improve the digital customer experience throughout our client’s properties by creating a centralized brand across its family of sites. As a result, our client could present itself as a global brand through content, imagery and navigation.
Integrating a disconnected brand
We started this project as we start all projects: with research and strategy. We saw a need to unify a scattered brand to make the experience better for the user. During our initial brainstorming sessions, the idea of creating a visual language by designing a family of icons surfaced. We saw icons as a way to increase the consistency of the visual experience on the client’s sites. The client’s existing iconography had no centralized logic; icons had been created or sourced on a one-off basis according to a specific need, rather than as part of a larger icon family. The aesthetic was disconnected from the overarching client brand, and also varied stylistically from sub-brand to sub-brand. We intended to use an iconography set much like one would use a font family, providing our client’s brand with a distinct tone and direction, while at the same time staying tightly connected to the other brand elements.
An icon family designed for iteration
We took a holistic approach to icon creation and first brainstormed what components we could use from the client’s existing visual language to expand their brand’s identity. We focused on the primary brand typeface, as well as on using multiples of a seven-degree angle, a foundational element of the brand aesthetic. Icons were designed to appear as part of the typeface, with a consistent look and feel. Deconstructing the typeface, we were able to extract visual building blocks that could be used as the foundational components in the construction of a family of icons. The icons can be used as type themselves—standing alone to communicate a concept that may overarch multiple websites—while still belonging to a family of common attributes. The icons can also be paired with the primary brand typeface, strengthening the brand’s message and creating a visual balance, while drawing attention to key information. To that end, we created three different icon weights to complement the various weights of the primary typeface. The process of creating the icons was an iterative one, with the initial goal being to represent the essential meaning of the icon, whether a high-level concept or functional object. Once we had a basic visual form, the goal became to simplify and remove as many visual elements as possible while still retaining the meaning of the icon. As the icon always needs to feel as though it belongs to the primary typeface, usage of the foundational components was key. The original typeface was referenced whenever possible in creating new shapes.
The proposed redesign received an overwhelmingly positive response from the client and stakeholders and gave them a solid foundation upon which they could continue to build their brand globally. The intention in the holistic design process was that the client would now have a platform and methodology that they could use to expand the icon set as needed. One of the goals here at EY Intuitive is to provide our clients with the most flexible approaches possible, so that they feel ownership of their own brand and can continue to iterate great work. Icon design—when paired with research, testing and an updated web framework—can be a key part of this plan.