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Getting Started

The requirements for this project were to design a set of 6 icons of my choosing with a theme and target audience in mind. I thought of many topics including animals of Yellowstone, the fair, agriculture, dogs, the circus, maps, movies, and others. Of these topics, I tried to then think of individual characteristics, since I needed six icons that I could digitally render. As I thought about these things some more, I slowly morphed agriculture into Old MacDonald Farm Animals.

This topic almost automatically defined my target audience of young children and parents. I began sketching, using pictures from the internet for reference, and giving myself a few guidelines. For example, I sketched each animal 5 times; once facing front, once in profile, once using a triangular shaped face, once using an oval shaped face, and once with just the head in profile. After this process, I was able to see that  I had some consistent things repeating and other things that would either be too difficult digitally , or were better for other visuals and not icons.

Design Decisions

The sketches showed that there was some potential for the triangular shapes to be effective while providing a thematically consistent direction. Initially, I simply designed the icons with eyes and facial features similar to that seen in the pictures I was referring to, but limiting my color palette to a predetermined set. As you can see in my first rough draft, I started simple, and the animals progressively got more detailed.

Old MacDonalds farm

Furthermore, I was designing these icons very large on my screen and not stepping awayOld MacDonalds farm very frequently to analyze them at small sizes. Because I was designing against a white artboard, I wasn’t seeing enough contrast with the lighter colors and so far, my solution had been to outline the shapes with a stroke.

There are other problems, too. My son said that the duck wanted to “devour his soul”, and there were several who had trouble identifying it clearly. The turkey also has issues; size, detail, and clarity among them. Not to mention that the stroke is again, a distraction.


In class, I received some feedback that was helpful and guided the next session of design decisions. The most helpful question I was asked was, “Which one is your favorite?” To which I replied, “The sheep.” It was agreed that the sheep was the shining star of this first draft, so my edits revolved around making all the icons more similar to the sheep. First, I removed the duck and the turkey from the lineup, replacing them with a horse and a dog. Next, I went through each of the other animals in order to define them further and remove the stroke. I changed all of the eyes to match the sheep, but edited them according to the animal and placement on that head. It was also pointed out to me that some in the first draft were more photo-realistic and others were more illustrated. I tried to also change this and make each more cohesive. The last thing I did was limit the color palette even further and add a background shape to each image. During this step I made sure to check the grey-scale values so that the backgrounds didn’t compete with the animals, either.

The Set

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After all of the edits, my final icon set for Old MacDonald Had a Farm are ready to go! They are simple, but have just enough detail and character that they are recognizable individually and as a set, and best of all, none of them want to devour my soul. Designing them was challenging, but really fun, and I was able to use and practice many of the new skills I learned in Illustrator while I designed them. This is helping me get better, be faster, and more organized as I practice these skills.


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