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Our team has to work with a very large number of image resources (over 500). We're struggling to figure out how best to organize these items such that they are easy to work with. We're specifically dealing with icons. How should we organize them into groups so designers can easily find what they are looking for?

One issue we're facing is that one icon could be used in different situations and has different meanings. For example, a "star" icon could be an action to add something to "Favorites". Also, the section "Favorites" has "star" icon as well. This icon fits equally well in multiple categories, so should we place it in the "Actions" category, "Containers", or both?

How should we organize such a large number of resources?

  • As a developer who uses icon sets all the time, I'd just have them all in the same directory. As long as they've all got names that make sense and describe the icon without the need for further explanation, there's no real need for further categorization – Ben Mansley Dec 15 '17 at 21:43
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    Make sure you don't interpret icons when naming - An icon named "torchlight" is easier to identify and find than the same thing interpreted and named as "search". – tofro Dec 17 '17 at 17:55
  • The organisation of your icons has to be something that your designers understand where to find things - this means that you'll have to canvas your designers as to how they want to see things organised. You could also try looking at which icons are used the most, which icons are used in a hurry most, which icons are associated with which job types, etc. – Andrew Martin Dec 18 '17 at 8:28
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    "We have 500+ icons." I think I found your problem. (Any chance of losing 495 of them?) – Ken Mohnkern Dec 18 '17 at 15:16
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    Can we PLEASE stop flagging questions as "asking for icon suggestions" just because they contain the word icon? This is obviously not asking "What is an icon for X?" – maxathousand Dec 18 '17 at 22:16
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My team and I use card sorting to organize hundreds of pieces of content based on how users would expect to find that content. Card sorting can help you organize your icons based on what your users think. We use Optimalsort for this and the results have been amazing. Card sorting helps us avoid any huge shifts in our information architecture down the road.

I think this method will be great for you if you can put together a study with 10-30 people who sort about 50 icons each you will see strong categories surface.

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This is a tough question that I often come across when designing systems to help teams manage their assets. The simple rule of thumb is that you have to look at the assets you already have and where they have been used because there is more than one solution possible but it needs to fit with your current usage of icons.

For example, here are some high level strategies you might consider:

  • Project based: group icons by the projects that they are used in, but also have a folder where common icons that can be used across all projects are found
  • Use case based: group icons by what they are used for (e.g. favicons, button icons, menu icons, etc.)
  • Language based: group icons by their name or the type of symbol/item/concept they represent (e.g. nouns, verbs, nationalities, emotions/emojis, etc.)

You'll want to weigh this up with other factors like how many of each types of icons you already have, how easy will the recategorization make it to find commonly used icons, what is the category that you see the most usage or increase in the number of icons and other factors that will make a particular decision more practical or not.

This is also an exercise in user experience, where you can probably do some card sorting and see how people group the icons together to help guide your decision.

  • I like your suggested groups. It would even conceivably be possible to implement them all via a tagging system. For example, a "star" icon, as mentioned in the question, could be tagged as "use case: Action" and "use case: Container" so the star icon can be returned as a result of searching for both "action" and "container", and even possibly appear in each section when browsing. – maxathousand Dec 18 '17 at 22:29

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