Like a number of other Adobe CS3 users, I was initially aghast at the suite's new icons when they first showed them to the world late last year.
Adobe Systems — the company with the legacy of some of the most creative icons in the history of interface design, from renditions of Venus de Milo to color-enhanced X-Ray photography of starfish and butterflies — this same company was *seriously* considering icons that were colored squares and two-letter program name mnemonics? Were they kidding?
No, they weren't. Since I can't include a screen shot, here's one of my favorite depictions of Adobe's new icons, arranged in a rotatiing "carousel" (center the cursor to slow it down): http://theflashblog.com/icons.html
And, like a number of initially-horrified designers, now that I've installed CS3 on a few machines in the studio, I'm appreciating their simplicity. It's refreshing. And they look pretty, like candy chiclets, arranged side-by-side in my Mac's Dock or in the QuickStart area of my Windows Task Bar.
More to the point, they're easier to identify now: The chiclet that says ID is InDesign. PS is Photoshop. IL is Illustrator — not! I guess the Illustrator team didn't like the connotations (we're not sick NOR from the midwest), instead going with "Ai" for their abbreviation. (Team Photoshop, in contrast, is not so thin-skinned. Or they have a sense of humor. Or both.)
I'm still puzzling over why some of the second letters are small caps and others are lowercase, though.
Variations on a Theme
There's no way designers could leave those icons alone, of course. Here are some of my favorite replacement sets for the stock CS3 icons:
An almost-complete CS3 set of application *and* document icons based on the look of Adobe's CS3 packaging, which is quite beautiful. These are Mac-only, but Israel-based designer Eli has ported them over to Windows with Adam's permission: http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/53728408/
Hedi subtly introduces the CS2 icons into their CS3 counterparts in this set, available as .icns and .png files.
The same icons but with rounded corners, beveled edges, and different lighting. All effects are exquisitely subtle.
Professional icon designer Louie Mantia spent a lot of time on these illustrative icons that take the CS2 look into CS3-era. Only four icons are previewed at the URL, but all the apps' icons are in the downloads (Mac/Windows).
Nuclear Potato (can't find his real name!)
Mystery designer "Nuclear Potato" posted beautiful CS3 icons free for the downloading at this forum, though I think they'd be hard for me to tell apart in the Dock. (Or maybe I'm already spoiled by the abbreviations).
Twenty CS3 icons in a comic style … c'mon, lighten up your attitude and try these on for size.
If you need help installing the icons, read the comments in these links for tips and utilities.
I'm looking forward to seeing even more takes on the CS3 icons on April 30, 2007, when Pariah Burke announces the winner and runners-up to his "Design Your Own Creative Suite 3 Icons Competition:"
What Makes a Good Icon?
Let's bring the topic to a higher level with some thoughts about icon design itself. Have you ever been in charge of creating a set? I have, and it was probably one of the most difficult jobs I've ever done! (Client said: "We need icons for Print and Help with the 'Windows XP look" but we don't want Microsoft to sue us." Sigh.)
I learned a lot by reading the transcripts of a Fireside Chat on the topic of Icon Design. (A Fireside Chat is a live chat/filesharing meeting via 37Signal's Campfire: http://www.campfirenow.com/).
All the participants were professional icon designers: Dave Brasgalla and Corey Marion (Icon Factory); Brian Brasher and Josh Williams (Firewheel Design); Jon Hicks (Hicks Design — he did the Firefox icon); and Michael Schmidt (Cuban Council).
In Part 1 of 3, they share their favorite icons and their opinions of the Adobe CS3 chiclets:
Part 2 of 3 (how they actually create their icons) is here:
Part 3 of 3 hasn't been posted yet as of this writing.
After reading these, I'll never take an icon for granted again!