Oak Studios just released Symbolset, an icon set that creates a significant step forward in a long-running trend for iconography on the web. In their words, Symbolsets are “semantic symbol fonts”, which act as replacements for full words in your HTML. This has a clear advantage for accessibility and indexing. Symbolset uses font files as the delivery system and map the icons to standard Unicode values.

In only a few years, we have seen iconography move from flat, meaningless images to embedding the icons in fonts to assigning icons to appropriate values in a font and now they are replacing entire words. These steps are showing a progression of web iconography icons becoming an extension (and at times a replacement) of traditional language. I don’t see this trend declining anytime soon and here’s why.

Our screens are getting smaller, our resolutions are getting denser and our audience becoming more diverse. Iconography represents an space-efficient and universal communication method. An icon may not be worth a thousand words, but it can often be worth 3 or 4. With limited screen real-estate, that is definitely worth it. With the inevitable step of Retina displays on all of our devices, vector imagery begins to have a significant advantage to their raster counterparts. This will just accelerate the move to font-based or SVG-based web iconography.

I love what Oak has done with Symbolset. It makes the web more visual for people and more semantic for computers. It was the next logical step of web iconography that I never even considered.