Good Design or Misleading Iconography?


A couple of months ago I read, or rather looked at, this on Doug Belshaw’s blog. A 4-set Venn diagram. I looked at the four areas described – Education, Technology, Productivity and Design and how the centre section where all four areas meet must surely be some ideal. The I realised I couldn’t meet the ideal – because I am rubbish at design. The other areas are fine, but not design.


Doug described the centre section as ‘User Experience’ and a kind of agree. All four areas have to combine positively to create a positive user experience. I saw this happen when I used Google Docs with my colleagues earlier this term. I had previously tried to foist Moodle on them – but to no avail.


It. Just. Didn’t. Work.


There was something missing from their user experience. But Google Docs made complete sense. We used a spreadsheet to plan how we would teach our 120 children maths for the term. Not only did the same teachers who didn’t get Moodle get Google Docs straight away, but we planned the maths groups in only half an hour – previously it had taken a couple of hours for me and then lots of follow up conversations and re-adjustments. It was a productive experience, the teachers learnt something using technology and it was clearly designed well enough for teachers with low IT confidence to get it straight away.


It. Just. Worked. 

So when, a month or so later I came to design a learning platform using Google Apps – I was excited that the technology was in place to create a productive online tool, but worried that my design skills wouldn’t be up to the task. Along came Mark Allen (@edinthclouds), fellow GCT with some wonderful help, advice and a great template – but still I wanted more. I didn’t want to solely use the icons that Mark was offering because I wanted them to belong to us at Paganel. So I asked some children to design some for me. Some were hand-drawn like what you can see on the front-end of our learning platform at, others were created in Google Drawings. They’re not brilliant – but they’re ours.


And this is I hit a really interesting problem. I had a go at creating some of the icons myself (I couldn’t take the children away from their curriculum every lesson to do my work for me – child labour was banned in this country in Victorian times). But obviously being a poor designer I was completely stuck for ideas. So a Google Image search revealed what the rest of the world was doing for icons and gave me some good ideas for my own. However, it was clear that whilst there are some excellent designers out there, and the icons look very pretty, they’re not all working in the centre zone of Doug;’s Venn diagram – they’re not actually working for a good user experience.


My best example is ‘training‘. I did an image search for training and came up with the picture I attached to the blog. 30 icons for training. However many of the images provide a very negative image for training – they’re all about ‘instruction’ not training. Images of chalkboards, lecturing and even mortar-board-wearing figures. That’s not training to me.


Training is about the practice and application of specific exercises to develop and hone a skill. It requires two people to help you – a coach who can draw out your motivation and a mentor who can guide you when you’re going wrong. Images of instruction give the wrong message to the user about what training actually is. They limit the message. Is this being pedantic? Maybe so – but I want the best user experience possible for the teachers who will be using my learning platform.


But I’m not a designer. I desperately want a good icon image for ‘training’ so I can use it on my website, but I can’t think what it should be. So any thought or reflections on other misleading icons will be most welcome – and if anyone can help me design a good ‘training’ one, do let me know.

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