Matt Gemmell

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Let's end the icons crisis!

interface 2 min read

I'm sick of being crap at graphic design. When I was at high school, I wished I could 
draw as well as my best friend Craig. He could draw just about anything (or anyone, 
more importantly) effortlessly. From cartoons to caricatures, or even realistic renderings, 
he could do it. It provided us with six years of fairly regular amusement, and I remain 
envious of his talent to this day.

Nowadays I'm a Mac OS X developer (or at least I'd like to think so), and again I find myself 
in desperate need of design skills - for icons! We all need icons, for our NSToolbars and 
documents, not to mention the all-important application icon itself. I propose that we work 
together to end this drought of decent icons amongst the artistically challenged of the OS X 
dev community.

This new Icons category in my blog shall henceforth be the home to posts about icons. I'll post 
links to places you can find icons whose creator permits their use in your software. I'll link 
to icon-design services which you can use. But I'll also put my money where my mouth is: whenever 
I design an appropriate icon, no matter how god-awful it might be, I'll put it on the web - in a 
layered PSD as well as a TIFF or PNG, whenever possible - and grant you permission to use it 
royalty-free for anything you like.

Clearly I'm not going to give you my application icons in this way, since there are obvious issues 
of unique identity to be considered, but whenever I create something like an element which could be 
useful in a larger icon, or a toolbar icon which could be useful in more than one context, I'll put 
it up here. <strong>And I expect you to return the favour</strong>.


If you come up with an icon you'd like to share, either put it on the web and let me know (I'll post 
about it and link to you), or if you don't have web space, email it to me and I'll host it for download, 
with all credit to you. Sound fair?

Together, we really can have apps whose icons don't remind users of a bad Windows 3.1 cheese-nightmare. 
No, <em>really</em> we can.


Obviously, we need to be sensible about this. I'm not going to check copyright or origin of anything 
any of you might send to me, so it would be great if we could all agree not to steal other people's 
copyrighted work. If someone has given you permission to redistribute the icons for this purpose, 
then fine - but just don't go sending me icons from OS X itself, or from Apple apps. It'll just get 
us all into hot water. OK? :)

So, let's get started: I've put together a folder of all the icon-suitable images I've made that I 
can find lying around my Pictures folder right now. You're welcome to 
<a href="">download them</a> and use them 
for anything you like. They're a grab-bag of TIFFs, PNGs, ICNS files and layered Photoshop 7 PSDs.

Also, you can download my <a href="">Icon For Filetype</a> 
Cocoa source-code to see how to obtain (as an NSImage) the icon for any file-type your system recognises (like .rtf or .doc or whatever). 
Similarly, download my <a href="">GetNetApps</a> Cocoa source-code to see how 
to obtain the icon (and full name and path) for the apps registered to deal with 
various internet protocols (such as your default email client for the "mailto:" protocol, and so on). Great for "open in default browser" 
or "email us" toolbar items!

Finally, here are some links to more professional resources:
  • IconFactory design - pay the IF chaps to design your own custom icons.
  • - those IF folk again, this time with (expensive!) packs of ready-to-use royalty-free icons for your apps.
  • Apple's User Experience Aqua Icon Design page, with downloadable Aqua Icon Kit and lots more links.
  • Rick Roe's, with plenty of classic Mac OS icons you're allowed to redistribute. Remember: classic Mac OS icons are 32x32 pixels, and so are icons on NSToolbars. There's some great stuff out there to be had!

So, who's next to offer something?