Mastering icons use in user interface

Learn the best practices of using icons effectively in interface design and understand the best ways to use them in your Figma designs.

Do's, don'ts, and best practices when it comes to using icons in UI; Flex Line icons

When designing an interface, icons should not be an afterthought. They need to be an integral part of the design process from the beginning. Thoughtfully chosen icons that are consistent, recognizable, and aesthetically pleasing can elevate the overall user experience.

To really understand how to use icons in interfaces you must first learn why you should use icons in your interface.

Why do we need icons in user interfaces?
Icons are far from just decorative elements in user interfaces. They serve important functions that profoundly shape the user experience.

What to consider while using icons in UI

The most non-negotiable tips for designing interfaces that are visually appealing and intuitive:


When selecting icons for your interface, you need to consider how recognizable they will be to users. There are two main types of icons: abstract and representative.

1) Abstract icons

Use simple shapes and lines to represent a concept. These icons rely more on learned recognition. For example, a hamburger icon with three stacked lines is commonly used to represent a menu that slides in from the side. Users need to already be familiar with this icon to understand what it means.

Icons that are abstract in nature; Icons in use: Core Line

2) Representative icons look more like the real-world object or concept they symbolize. These are easier for users to interpret at a glance. For example, an envelope icon clearly represents email or messages.

Representative icons work well when you need icons that users can intuitively understand without previous exposure. In general, you'll want to lean towards more representative icons whenever possible.

Icons that are representative of real-world objects; Icons in use: Core Line


Icons can be a great way to communicate meaning, but they should not be the sole method of conveying important information. For accessibility, every icon should have accompanying alt text or label that describes the icon's meaning and purpose.

When adding alt text, be succinct yet descriptive. The goal is to provide the same information that the icon conveys visually.

Labels and tooltips are added against icons to help with accessibility; Icon in use: Core Line

Interactive states

Icons are a useful way to indicate state changes and interactivity in an interface. Using icons to show state changes provides a quick visual cue that helps users understand what actions they can take.

Using a heart icon from Core Line to show interactive states in UI


When choosing icon sizes for your interface, consistency is key. Icons should be sized proportionally to other elements on the screen. Consistent proportions make for a polished, professional interface.

In general, while designing interfaces common bases are 16px for small icons, 24px for medium icons and 32px for larger icons.

Some tips on sizing icons:

Icons and texts should be at the same baseline; Icon in use: Sharp Line

Avoid randomly sized icons, size them all the same when in a group; Icon in use: Flex Line

Test for icon sizing across devices specially in smaller screens; Icon in use: Ultimate Bold


Proper spacing around icons is essential for usability and accessibility. Icons should have enough padding or whitespace so they are easy to discern and interact with.

When placing icons in buttons or other clickable elements, make sure there is adequate space for the user to tap or click. The touch target around an icon should be at least 48 x 48px according to WCAG guidelines. A cramped icon that is too close to other elements can be difficult to press accurately. Having breathing room prevents misclicks and conveys that the icon can be tapped.

Using Micro Line icon to show correct use of spacing in touch targets

Similarly, don't place icons too close together. There should be spacing between icons for visual separation and ease of tapping on the touch targets. Adjacent icons without padding may appear cluttered and hard to parse.

Using Micro Line icons to show correct use of spacing between touch targets


The alignment of icons in a user interface plays a crucial role in the overall design and usability. Proper icon alignment ensures visual balance, clarity, and intuitive interaction.

Line alignment of icon and text creates a clean, organized look; Icon in use: Micro Line

Align icons based on their text alignment to achieve visual balance; Icon in use: Plump Solid

When icons are present without text, centre align within in the box; Icon in use: Nova Line

Make sure icon and text baselines match; Icon in use: Core Line

Icon libraries

Ready-made icon libraries provide a huge selection of icons that you can easily implement in your interface designs.

One of the most widely used icon libraries is Streamline. Streamline offers a diverse range of categories like web applications, transportation, medical, weather, ecology, health, culture, work, travel, AI and brand logos. The icons are vector-based and available in solid, regular, light, line, flat and duotone styles.

Streamline Plugin in Figma

Drag and drop 196K icons directly in your canvas

Install Plugin For Free

Designing an interface using icons in Figma

Figma makes it easy to design with icons and create icon systems for your interfaces.

Importing icons from icon libraries

  • Use the assets panel to import icons from Streamline Plugin. This allows you to bring them into your Figma file.
  • You can resize, change color and strokes to customize any vector icon.

Steps for dropping icons in Figma and adding as a component; Icon used: Core Line from Streamline Plugin

Using the components

  • Once component is created it's easy to drop icons from the asset panel present in the left sidebar
  • Quickly swap them with another icon by holding 'option or ⌥' key for faster workflow.

Use the asset panel to drop icons directly into your frame; Icon used: Core Line


Swapping icons by holding 'option or ⌥' key; Icon used: Core Line

Designing icon variants

  • Create variants like outlined, filled, and colored versions of your icons.
  • Use components so you can swap between icon variants easily.

Swapping between icon state variants in Figma; Icon in use: Core Line, Core Solid

Using auto-layout

  • Put icons into auto-layout frames so that they resize responsively across device sizes.
  • Make sure to set constraints so icons resize proportionally and don't become distorted.
  • Use fixed width and height constraints to keep icons a consistent size if needed.

Icons are added in a button using auto-layout; Icon used: Core Line, Core Solid

How can you get started?

Now that you know the tips and tricks on how to include icons while designing user interfaces, get your hands on the best icon library with 196k icons:

Also, before you jump right in feel free to browse the interface use-cases by Streamline to get inspired. Happy Streamlining!