Icons do several things. They reinforce your brand, improve the user experience, and serve as immediately recognizable images to represent a concept and deliver personality.
When to use stock icons.
Flaticons, with "more than " 2,500 free icons to customize" is a tremendous resource. In many instances, the symbols you need are a download away. Many, many brands use free or stock icon sets, with modifications or without, that looks sharp and communicate the message correctly.
When to use custom icons
Sometimes the illustrative style you are looking for hasn't been created yet. And that is the point. You want something that sets you apart, communicates the message differently, and helps to establish the character of your organization.
AB Aero Partners Icon Set - Case Study
In our project for AB Aero Partners, an engineering and industrial consulting firm, we sought to express supply chain management concepts and work with the client to hone their identity. Our aim was not to appeal to a broad audience with symbols that could be interpreted by other industries. Our rationale was to take the opposite approach. We wanted something that represented the aerospace vertical alone and helped to shape the boutique qualities of the consulting firm using symbols that were not available to the masses.
The original icon set was being used to represent niche, industry-specific concepts, and yet they were generic, they lacked meaning and character.
As we looked to tighten the message and its visual representation, we interviewed the stakeholders and explored the business objectives, and budget. From there, we looked for inspiration from visual metaphors within the industry. We then sketched out the design and created digital sketches exploring shapes, use of the color palette and the style.
From there, we iterated and advanced the art direction for the icon design. We decided to replace the conventional circular icon with an irregular shape, settling on an airplane window theme to unify the set. Additionally, we opted for a slightly larger implementation.