Conveying a complex message with simple graphics, part I

Graphic, icon, and logo design for social media are just some of the many things we do for clients here at Helios Media. One of the most difficult aspects of design lies in the task of distilling a complicated, multifaceted idea or message into a simple—or at least visually decipherable—graphic, icon or symbol.

In this series of posts, I’ll show you some simple steps that you can take to create better, simpler, more intuitive graphics. Whether in the form of a logo, icon, infographic or web graphic, there are a few core ideas that can help you discover your preferences for—or design for yourself—an image that works for you.

Part I: Associate and visualize

Sitting down with Illustrator or Photoshop and trying to tackle a graphic right away is a great way to wind up frustrated and over-caffeinated with very little progress made. Just as you might write an outline before a paper or article, or write a list before hitting the grocery store, the design process is always best when it starts with brainstorming and sketching. A lot of my process happens before a single line is drawn.

The key to this step? Association and visualization.

Simply put: what words, phrases, images and symbolism are socially, culturally, or historically associated with your concept? This doesn’t have to be hours of research, or dozens of books checked out from the library. A good way to start is by googling your concept. In the example below, I made a graphic for a “Tech” category (Fig. 1). The first thought that came to my head was “silicon chip.” I did some light googling to remind myself of how they looked, simplified the concept so that it could be understood with as little detail as possible, and made some sketches that would become the graphic.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1


Obviously this was a best-case scenario for me. Ideas don’t always come that easily. For the graphic below (Fig. 2), I had to think of a way to show the category of “Healthcare.” Obviously the equal-armed cross came to mind, but it seemed too cliché to me. After some research I came up with the core words and symbols that seemed to always be associated with healthcare: cross, heart, syringe, monitors, doctors, stethoscope, nurses. I narrowed it down to cross, heart, and monitors, as doctors, nurses and stethoscope would be difficult to portray without including a human figure. Syringes are scary and can have a negative connotation, so I eliminated that concept as well. Some sketches later, I decided to go with the heartbeat superimposed on the cross. Simple, effective, and clear.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2


Keep googling and thinking. No matter how confusing it can get, it’s never more difficult than when you attempt to go in cold

Stay tuned for part II of our ongoing blog series, Conveying a complex message with simple graphics.