I went through a dozen iterations of icons for the crafts in Glyphmaster’s Gateway. They never seemed quite right, but today I managed to nail them down. In this post, I’ll cover some of the considerations I had, some of the obstacles, and some standard operating procedures when it comes to icon design.
The Champion craft accomplishes their objectives through warfare. Battle. Mettle. Because of this, I needed an icon that clearly indicated this was their focus, but I also wanted to throw in a little flair from the Special Operations communities. A common trope that symbolizes aggressive attack is the sword. Contrasting that is the shield which commonly indicates defense. So I wanted a sword. The other thing that’s commonly seen in military style crest design is wings. Jump wings, angel wings, you name it. So that was my starting point. I settled on the sword as the centerpiece and surrounded it on both sides with wings. I also wanted something that might be seen on a flag or a shield.
One of the problems I initially had with this design is that the spaces between elements was too close together. An icon needs to still look good at small size (since it’s an icon) so the main fix I needed to do was go in and widen up those gaps.
Update: It was brought to my attention that this design is similar to one used by Warhammer 40K. For that reason, and for the fact that I received feedback that the icons didn’t match as well (looked like they were from different games) I decided to change it, and went through several iterations before settling on this one.
The Divine craft accomplishes their objectives through the power of the gods. Think priests, monks, paladins, etc. For this I wanted something to illustrate the power from the heavens. So some sort of celestial body. I settled on a seven-pointed star outline and then decided to make it intertwined. The last element I added was the diamonds, because the star looked a little plain by itself. I also chose a seven-pointed star because they’re not as common as 5 or 6-pointed stars. I also wanted something a little cultish that one might see on a banner in a temple or a shrine somewhere.
Update: I need to amend this design to match the line thickness in some of the others. I also received feedback that the blue was too dark. So here is the new one.
The Sorcery craft accomplishes their objectives through magic. For this design I wanted something that felt a little alien, almost sinister, since some of the spells in this deck pertain to the demonic or necromancy. This needed to be almost like a glyph, or strange writing you might see inside a warlock’s tome. Another thing that came to mind is something a wizard might have on his or her robe. For this I simply started by throwing some jagged shapes around, then I duplicated what I came up with and flipped it to be symmetrical. The last step was to intertwine them the way I did with the Divine symbol. I wanted to capture a mysterious feel, as the arcane is always shrouded in mystery.
The Engineering craft accomplishes their objectives through the use of machinery and craftsmanship. To convey this, I chose the tried-and-true symbol of the gear cog, but I didn’t want it to be normal. A full cog, to me, is overdone, so it needed to be fresh. Looking at the icon, I need people to know exactly what it is. It’s obvious. So I took a gear, then divided it into three parts and cut out the top part. From there I added the spikes. I could have left it like that, but I felt it was still missing something. So I threw in a circle and offset it a little. There wasn’t any need to add any other elements, so that was that.
It can sometimes be tempting to throw the whole kitchen sink in there, but too much stuff on an icon can make it muddy. Remember, it has to be clear at small size, crisp. Simplicity is better than too much.
The Artifice craft accomplishes their objectives through subterfuge, deception, trickery, guile. Think thieves, spies, assassins. They thrive on chaos and lies. This was admittedly the most difficult icon for me, because unlike Sorcery (which could be mysterious and not necessarily convey magic in a clear way), I needed the icon for this to be clear as to what it was all about. I decided to go with the traditional hooded figure, which is common in fantasy. The other elements came almost by accident, and I thought the crescent moon was a nice touch. Shadowy figures like to operate at night. The last element was the pointed dagger blade. Cloak and dagger.
The only consideration I went back and forth on is that the hooded figure resembles other well-known game characters (Assassin’s Creed is the obvious one). I had to try and set it apart from other similar designs, and because it may resemble this other thing, I have to take care to simply explain that the Artifice deck is about treachery, not assassins.
Update: After taking in a great deal of feedback from the Art and Graphic Design for Tabletop Games group on Facebook (go request an add), I decided to update this icon. It didn’t match the others (see the green one above) and I needed it to be different from Assassin’s Creed and other hooded figure designs.
Icons are intended to be simple and easily discernible at small size. For this reason they need to be clean and crisp. Less is more. I also like to keep to one or two colors. The other thing that’s important to me is that they demonstrate the same level of quality and craftsmanship as the other art in your game. They should match the flavor and theme of the game. You’re not going to see Destiny style icons on a game like The Witcher. Icons might also be influenced by the cultures in your game. Designs for orcs and goblins are going to be more tribal and rough than, say, designs for elves, which might appear more intricate. Aggressive factions will also likely feature more jagged lines, while more pacifist factions might have more rounded edges. It’s okay to use common tropes and styles to elicit a specific look or emotion, as people already associate certain things with designs of that type. For example, a logo for a cult should convey “cult” with no ambiguity. One of my favorite cult logos is from the tv show The Path.
Other common religious imagery might be rays of light. Wherever possible, try to use common imagery in a new way. It may be derivative, but it shouldn’t look derivative.
The last piece of advice I want to give for designers is to not overthink it. Think in terms of lines, shapes, and colors. Any piece of art can be broken down into those elements. An icon is just lines and shapes, a couple colors. Don’t be afraid to scrap something if it’s not working. Sketch and brainstorm. Sometimes I will hand draw an icon or logo first until I get a good rendition, then I clean it up in Photoshop. Test your icons out at small sizes. See what works and what doesn’t. Continue making adjustments until you get it. I went through a ton of different ideas for the Engineering craft until I finally felt like it didn’t suck. You can see below the evolution of them. The bottom was the first one, and each one above the next, so on until you get to the final version at the top.
Just keep going until you get it. That’s the best piece of advice I have Keep going.