To understand the users of the Noun Project or similar icon search engines (aggregators), I came up with few questions and scenarios. Filtering out those who have experience with using an icon aggregator resulted a group of people who are in art/design industry. With the selected people, I proceeded the following questions and scenarios.

Questions

Q. When you’re using the Noun Project or similar icon search engines, how many icons are you mostly looking for?

  • 82% answered they often look for more than a single icon
  • 18% answered they look for just one icon

Q. If you are looking for multiple icons, do you prefer them to be created by one person/designer?

  • 91% answered (Y) they prefer their icons to be created by one person/designer
  • 9% answered (N) they don't particularly prefer icons to be created by one person/designer

Q. Please briefly describe why you picked Y/N for the previous question.

  • Y: consistency, same/similar style, overall accordance, uniformity, common theme, "already have a specific icon in my mind"
  • N: reference, "not for the right-away use"

Scenarios

S. You are looking for 2 icons: a dog and a cat. You found a dog icon that you like, but the creator’s collection only has icons of a dog. What would be your action?

three icons of dogs in similar style and one question mark
  • modify one of the icons from the collection so that it can look a bit like a cat
  • I'd look for a cat icon from someone else that looks as similar as the dog icon I found
  • I'd find a collection that has both dog and cat
  • Give up the cat (if i have the budget, recruit a cat icon designer) ...

S. You are designing a website, and need 2 types of icons: a cake and a cat. Do you think this set of icons are good to be used together? Why?

a cake icon and a cat icon with similar style
  • yes, they look same in style. Maybe the cat is too big?
  • Yes. The two icons have used same background color and a line stroke.
  • Yes, both in simple lines and fluffy.
  • No, the porportion could be better (the cake smaller than the cat or the cat as face only) ...

S. You are designing an app, and need 4 types of icons: flower, bicycle, cake and dog. Do you think this set of icons are good to be used together? Why?

flower, bicycle, cake and dog icons. bicycle icon has different weight
  • No, the bicycle icon is not designed like the others
  • the bicycle looks too random with other ones
  • No. The bike icon's line stroke is too thin compare to the other three.
  • No, that bicycle looks off (less noticeable) with other icons ...

Learning/Conclusion

  1. have more realistic/practical set of icons (such as doc, image, folder..etc that are often seen or will be used in product design) so the user scenarios can be smoothly understood
  2. make sure this is not about validating icon’s meaning
  3. focus on the main users of the Noun Project or of similar services (not the viewers of their final products)
  4. main topic moving away from perception of pictograms, but more towards expanding the possibility of collaboration inside an icon aggregator and improve its search experience