Interview with Jory Raphael from Symbolicons

About his process and his recent Kickstarter campaign

This week we’re chatting with Jory Raphael from Symbolicons. He recently started a Kickstarter campaign for his new Symbolicons Pro icon set.

 

Hi Jory thanks for participating in this interview! Can you start by sharing a little bit about yourself?

Hey there! It’s my pleasure. I’m a big fan of IconJar! As for myself, I’m just a guy living in a small town in a small state with my wife, two kids, two real cats, and one fake cat.

But you probably want to know a bit about my path to becoming a designer? Maybe not. But if you’re at all interested, when I was a child, I desperately wanted to be a cartoonist. I remember intensely studying the funny pages in my local paper, and spending hours tracing over my favorite comic strips. I even used to draw little commissions for my friends at school. That ultimately led to designing elements of my high school yearbook and posters for our my high school drama club. That, in turn, led to being hired through a work study program as the in-house designer for my college theater department. I actually have a degree in performing arts, but decided to pursue design as a career upon graduating.

 

How did you roll into icon design and what do you like the most about designing icons?

One of the companies I worked for post-college specialized in environmental graphic design, and I spend a lot of time designing signage and maps. As you know, symbols and icons are hugely important to wayfinding. I quickly became intimate with MUTCD guidelines 1, the NPS map symbols 2, and the AIGA symbol signs 3. There’s just something so simple and elegant about expressing concepts and metaphors with iconography.

Inevitably, the time came where I needed to use an icon that didn’t exist in any of my resources, so I set about designing it myself. I was instantly in love.

There’s something so satisfying about designing an icon. Each one is a puzzle with particular constraints, and being creative within those constraints is something that drives me.

After designing my first one-off icon, I embarked on small icon project for a local chamber of commerce, creating symbols for each of their membership categories. That project led to the creation of my first version of Symbolicons, which at the time of release contained only 100 icons. They weren’t even pixel-perfect, and had been designed using inches as the mode of measure (I had come from a signage-background, after all).

I like to think I’ve improved a lot since then.

 

You have designed some icon sets before, but never did it through crowdsourcing as far as I know. What lead you to starting your Kickstarter campaign? (which has a great video by the way!)

Ha! Thanks for the comment about the video. I knew the campaign needed a video, but didn’t want to spend too much time or money on it. I think it worked out okay, but definitely could have used some more polish. It felt a bit vulnerable to put myself out there, but I made the decision to just go for it and do my best to include a bit of my quirkiness.

The impetus behind the campaign was fairly simple. I’ve wanted to do a massive update to Symbolicons for years, but simply haven’t had the time for dedicated focus. In mid-June, I finished a long-term contract job and started looking for my next opportunity. At some point I had the idea that spending a dedicated stretch of time on my icons would be hugely satisfying, but it simply wasn’t feasible from a financial standpoint. That’s when I had the idea for a Kickstarter campaign. It would give me the chance to both gauge interest in the community for another batch of icons and get early backing to fund the project.

I only gave myself about a week and a half to pull together the details of the campaign (it probably shows!).

 

You passed your goal within two days after your launch which is absolutely amazing. What more do you have in store when you pledge more money from the campaign?

I’m blown-away by the support this project has received. Symbolicons has been around for a while, but they’ve never been the most popular icon set, and I’ve never really given them the time or attention they deserve. To be funded within two days is humbling. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who has backed the project.

The base style for Symbolicons Pro is a versatile solid glyph, and I’ve committed to designing over 2,000 icons for inclusion. If we happen to crest 2x our funding goal, then I’m also going to design ALL of the icons in clean outline style. It’s a bit daunting, but I’ve already gotten started and am really excited for the opportunity to complete the set(s).

 

What does your icon design process look like?

I use Adobe Illustrator to design all of my icons, and the process is both straightforward and an absolute mess. I treat my Illustrator canvas like a large scratch board, and then organize all of my icons on artboards. For Symbolicons Pro, I’ve committed to including icon-for-icon matches for every icon I’ve ever designed, but in the new style. That starts with bringing all of my icon sets into one file, and then distributing them into different categories. From there, I typically go category-by-category, studying each icon I’ve made and re-creating them in the new style. For completely new icons (and there are a lot in Symbolicons Pro), I start with a few sketches using… wait for it… an actual pencil and paper. I find that if the image I have in my head of an object or metaphor can be quickly sketched, it’s a good sign. I try to work quickly to get the basic concepts down, and then go back to make sure everything is consistent and fits within the overall style of the family.

Once the icons are all designed, the real fun begins! I get to name every single one, export them all in various formats and sizes, and then tag them all with extra details! I use a variety of scripts (some custom) in Illustrator to automate pieces of the process and rely on software (like IconJar!) for the rest.

It’s not very exciting, but it’s worked so far!

 

Checkout the Kickstart campaign


  1. https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/services/publications/fhwaop02084/
  2. https://www.nps.gov/hfc/carto/map-symbols.cfm
  3. http://www.aiga.org/symbol-signs

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