the best icons are those that read faster than words. Some that have reached this level of recognizeability have the advantage of a long history. Or, they really are the object that they represent. Such as the drawing of an apple, which indeed is an apple icon. The better it is designed, the faster it can be read as an apple.
Certain icons are memorable because they are constantly positioned in the public's view. For example, a stop sign is so well known it is recognizable from a very long distance whether we can read it or not. It has become a true iconeven though it doesn't satisfy the dictionary's definitionby virtue of hundreds of exposures to billions of eyes. By contrast, many word/picture combinations that are seemingly as simple will never have the exposure necessary to make them read as fast as a true icon.
When an illustrator helps a client understand what can be expected from specific pictorial representations, valid adjustments can be made early. In cases where images just won't work without multiple words, the ramifications of that fact should be explained. For instance, when illustrated headlines are used as links in a Web site, they'll be taking space on every page. At times, it should be mentioned that they may seriously distract from the key image or further crowd pages that are already too busy. That's when a responsible illustrator might suggest that clean word links would be a better solution.
The difference between an icon and an illustration.
Which says "service" faster, this picture, the word and the picture or the word all by itself? That is the question we asked before cluttering Idea Site For Business's Web site pages with many little graphics that might confuse rather than communicate. We were very aware of the trend by many Web designers to use icons as links to help decorate their pages and felt it needed to be examined.