When to use icons vs. text

Icons vs. Text: When to Icon-ify and When to Text-tify

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In UI/UX (user interface/user experience) design, icons and text are essential to convey information to users. However, each element has its strengths and weaknesses, and designers must carefully consider using icons or text in a particular context to create a compelling and user-friendly interface.

First things first, let’s define icons and text.

Icons are small visual representations that communicate meaning through imagery. They are powerful tools in UI design because they can convey information quickly and efficiently without lengthy explanations. In addition, they can represent various concepts, such as actions, objects, or ideas. Icons are also helpful in saving space on a screen, as they take up less room than text.

Text is the written or printed words that convey meaning. It is essential in UI design because it can provide more detailed information than icons. For example, text can provide explanations, instructions, or descriptions of products or services. Text is also easier to understand for users who may not be familiar with the meaning of specific icons.

When should you use icons vs. text in UI/UX design?

icons vs text

Let’s consider the pros and cons of each.



  • Icons are visually appealing and can enhance the aesthetic appeal of a design.
  • Icons are more recognizable than text, making them useful when users need to identify an action or an object quickly.
  • Icons take up less space on a screen, allowing designers to fit more content on a single page.
  • Icons can transcend language barriers since they are universal and do not require language proficiency.


  • Icons can be confusing if they are not designed well or if they are not commonly recognized.
  • Icons can be ambiguous and may require additional text to provide context.
  • Icons can be challenging to use for users with visual impairments or disabilities.
  • Icons can be difficult to remember if they are not used frequently.



  • Text provides more detailed information, which is helpful when providing instructions or descriptions.
  • Text is easier to understand for users who may not be familiar with specific icons.
  • Text is accessible to users with visual impairments or disabilities.
  • Text is easier to remember than icons since it is more detailed and descriptive.


  • Text can take up more space on a screen, limiting the amount of content that can be displayed.
  • Text can be overwhelming for users who prefer visual cues.
  • Text can be difficult to translate into other languages, creating potential language barriers.
  • Text can be less visually appealing than icons, potentially detracting from the overall aesthetic appeal of a design.

In general, icons are best used when conveying simple and recognizable concepts, such as directional arrows or social media icons. They are also helpful when space is limited, such as in mobile app designs. However, using text is better when more detailed information is needed, such as in instructional or descriptive text.

It’s also essential to consider the target audience when deciding between icons and text. For example, younger generations may be more familiar with icons than text, while older users may prefer text for its clarity and specificity.

Using icons vs. text in UI/UX design depends on the context and the target audience. 

Both elements have strengths and weaknesses and should be used strategically to create a user-friendly and visually appealing interface. By carefully considering the use of icons and text in a design, designers can create a seamless and intuitive experience for users, regardless of their familiarity with the product or service.

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