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I have a game in which I need to display icons on a map denoting the presence of other players. Each player has multiple parameters -- friend/foe; age; team; estimated direction of movement etc. I want players to be able to look at the top-down map and quickly get situational awareness. This is not a 'casual' game, so I am okay that the icons won't be immediately intuitive and will have a learning curve. I want to know how to design icons that convey multiple parameters.

I was thinking of using icon shape, size, color, opacity, outline, and motion (ie spinning or wiggling) to denote different things. The user could then hover over each player icon on the map to get more information.

  • Hey, welcome! You have a lot of good ideas on where to start. Maybe Facebook notification icons might help you too. Just start with something ang get a feedback on that. You need a picture that conveys information. So just do quick and dirty pictures and show them to someone. – digsrafik Mar 18 '15 at 19:03
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It's very difficult for an icon to convey more than 2 axes of information

For example, you can use different shapes to denote what kind of animal, and different colors to denote how aggressive the animal is.

Trying to add more dimensions to an icon is overloading it, and users will have a very hard time decoding the icon.

That is why games usually supplement icons with additional floating progress bars (e.g. health) which sit above the icon, rather than integrating the additional axis of information into the icon.

If you have multiple dimensions of information I'd suggest:

  • Prioritize them into a list to figure out exactly what the MINIMUM amount of information the user needs to see at a glance. This should be no more than 3 or 4 dimensions. 3 is highly preferable over 4.

  • Use an icon to take care of 2 dimensions (e.g. species, direction), and use status circles or bars near (or encircling) the icon to take care of the other 1 to 2 dimensions (e.g. health).

  • Use hover-over tooltip or click-to-show to show additional dimensions (e.g. manna, strength, etc).

Hope that helps.

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