Icons strengthen understanding and remembering

Here we use the term icon for a visual element in a survey report that is intended to convey a concept. By this definition, an icon serves more than a decorative purpose; it should link to and strengthen a discussion, plot or topic and add to the reader’s understanding and recall.

In Paul Hastings China 2013 [pg. 21], the firm chose icons to represent regulatory approval, the work done to integrate companies after an acquisition, and the due-diligence diving that precedes a potential acquisition. The visual representations of these three concepts, which are made clearer by the explanatory terms to the left, complement the text, a method that appeals to different cognitive styles of readers. Some people absorb information better by reading, others absorb information better through pictures. 1 Additionally, people store concepts in memory differently depending on the style of presentation.

HoganLovells Brexometer 2017 [pg. 9] turns to the well-known images of happiness and sadness. They stand atop a small table of survey results. Ever since the movie, Forest Gump, these stylized faces have become ubiquitous.

On page 9 of Pinsent Mason Infratech 2017, a closed-circuit TV camera films the lower right-hand corner of the page. It is not clear what that icon conveys, but a careful examination of the report shows that it is dappled with meaningful icons. You see a helicopter and an airplane on page 7, a stylized column chart with a trend arrow on page 14, light bulbs throughout the report that signify insights, a trio of humanoids on page 22, eight pages later four coins in a stack, an arrow in a target on page 34, and a trophy on page 38. Icon count no more.


  1. The day will come when reports include audio material for those who are aurally inclined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.