Aquarium Communication App icons

Kristi Gordon
8 min readMay 4, 2017


Designing a product, solving problems, and creating brand identity

The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is a large non profit organization with over 100 employees in 10 departments. The administrators of this company sat down with our design/development team to discuss needs and wants for their future. One project became the focus, and that was communication between the employees, on site, and off (outreach team).

Pain Points

The administrators expressed frustrations about the current methods of communication between employees on and off site. Currently, there is not a centralized method in place, and the employees are all using whatever means they prefer. Email, text, phone calls, social media, or personal drop in. This causes problems, from mild frustrations over wasted time, to bigger issues related to exhibit repairs. The need for a consistent, streamlined, centralized form of communication accessible from the aquarium’s website was the product they desired to solve some of these problems.

ICON Creation

Icon creation and testing for Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

The idea to create individual icons for each department at the LLPA started out as a way to provide a clear visual representation for subscribers of the app. A way to give identity and individuality to each aquarium department. The icons would reside next to each department name, and have a specific character and color that is unique. The idea expanded to brand identity for each department beyond the realms of the app. The icons would have two major purposes; provide quick visual recognition of departments, and give brand identity to each department. In order to meet these goals, the icons needs to best represent each department. The list of departments needing icon creation included: marketing, guest services, facilities, and philanthropy.

To achieve the goal of accurately representing each department, there needed to be some research conducted on all departments. What role do these departments play in the aquarium? Is there a color that best corresponds to a department? What characteristics set each one apart from the others? These departments are all vastly different with very specific and crucial roles. Each one is special, and all should be properly represented.

In the Beginning….

Research… Beg, borrow, steal

There is not shortage of icons on the internet, which is good for research purposes; and bad in the sense that it becomes more difficult to create a completely original idea. The process of researching ideas started with viewing multiple images of the aquarium animals, clip art as well as real life photos. The idea is to combine the look and feel of the aquarium with the look and feel of each department. For example, the marketing department would need elements of design that might convey advertising, money, people, graphs, etc. And to give the icon a little something extra an animal could be added to the design. Some design elements that inspired my icon ideas are shown below.


Putting pencil to paper

The sketching process flushed out a lot of ideas, some fluff, some usable. The ideas were all over the place, but that’s the beauty of sketching, just get out as many ideas as possible. I sketched all departments, not just my assigned set, to get the creative juices flowing. This process helped me generate new ideas.

Next, I went digital with my ideas, I used adobe illustrator to create my icons. The first set of icons were created based on what department might look like, without the animals. (other than education).

The first icon test was done using iBooks author, The idea was to test three icons with one department option. For marketing, I tested the three icons that could be used for marketing, guest facilities, or philanthropy. I set up the test where testers would choose the best icon from the three choices to match the given department. In the first round of testing, the marketing icon that was most chosen was the intended choice.(the purple one above).

The overall choice for guest experience was split mostly between the turtle and the person with the fish. The next step was to bring all ideas to the table with the client, the admins at the aquarium. This was my second test. I presented what I had done so far, and they loved the ideas but wanted to see more animal integration with the icons and were less concerned with accurately representing each department, and more about cute animals. At this point, the decision was to merge the two together, cute animals with department looking/matching elements. I was given a lot of feedback regarding preferences for specific departments and this gave me a much clearer sense of where I needed to go with my next iteration of designs. I decided to keep the turtle the same, it represents Philanthropy (promoting care and welfare of others) quite well. In my user testing this was the only icon that every tester picked this as their answer. The purple marketing icon was 6/10 split with the yellow icon. I decided to keep the purple design and add to it. Guest experience was split between the turtle and the green person half and half, I scrapped the green one, and started a new design based on feedback from peers and aquarium admins.

New set of designs

back to the drawing board

My new set of icons was created based on feedback from my testing with students/random people/friends and aquarium admins. I changed the colors associated with the icons as well. The only one that did not change was the red turtle. It tested well across the board, there was no reason to change it.

The ticket and shark with serving platter were new ideas for guest services, and marketing changed slightly with the addition of little fish instead of circles for the chart. The otter in the hard hat was created for facilities. I tested them next to each other, for my third round of testing. For this process I created a google form and emailed it out and posted it on Facebook as well as a slack channel. I chose colors based on the emotion color wheel, trying to keep cool colors that also match the aquarium color scheme. The red color fit so well with the idea of love, and was favored by the admins that were part of my second round of testing, I decided to keep it for the turtle icon.

Third round of testing

The google form quiz was much easier to distribute than the iBook quiz, but I did collect data from both sources. The iBooks quiz contained an option to check answer, which made many testers feel that there was a right answer and wanted to figure out what the right answer was. The google form did not have this option and I made it a point to add a comment in my email and social media posts about not having a right or wrong answer.

Facilities Test Results

The test question shown above is from iBooks, the graph represents the results from the google form. The test results for the iBooks quiz was 80% answer C, and 20% answer A. I tested 10 people using this method, and tested a variety of people. About half of them were over 45, and the rest were early 30s. The feedback I got regarding the icons was mostly positive, one recommendation was made to add suspenders to the otter icon to match the hard hat. The google form results favored option C as well (shown in the graph at 51%).

iBooks and google form testing for guest experience

Guest Experience Test Results

The results for the guest experience icon showed that option C was chosen at 70% and B at 30%. The results for the google form also shows that icon(option 1) as the leader with 42%, and option 2 next with 35%. Most testers who gave feedback about this icon said they were torn between B and C (or options 1 and 2). If the ticket had the word “admit” typed on it, it might look more like a ticket. But, at this point, I think that either option would work well for Guest Experience.

Marketing icon test results

The icon for marketing was an easy choice for testers, it was overwhelmingly clear that the graph with the fish was the winner in this round of testing. I feel that this icon really communicates marketing with the graph, and has the aquarium touch with the fish. It is a great marriage of function and fun. The iBooks test showed that 90% of testers chose this icon, which made me decide to test against a different set of icons for the google form test. And on that google form test, 78% chose this icon over the other two. Clearly, this is the right icon design for the Marketing department.

Philanthropy Test Results

Not surprisingly, the Philanthropy turtle icon tested 70% on the iBooks test, and the other two designs were split equally. The google form showed that the turtle received 89% and option 3 at 10%. From these results, it is clear that the turtle is the best icon choice for the Philanthropy department.


The results clearly show that the icon choices that best represent their department are…..


These are my final designs for the departments: Marketing, Facilities, Philanthropy, and Guest experiences. A couple small adjustments were made, the hard hat was filled in, and the marketing color changed back to purple. Based on the testing that I performed, these are the best choices for their departments. The client is happy with the results, and the testing supports the design choices.