Notion has a truly impressive feature set for gathering, organizing and working with information. But one key feature its missing is a set of built-in, business-oriented icons that we can use to visually classify it.
I’m one of those software users who like to get started quickly with the basics and then go back to embellish my work later. I followed that approach with Notion, creating many pages of content – my work in progress. When I decided to add icons to these articles, I quickly ran into several shortcomings.
First, from my iPhone, the only way to do that was to open each page and select an icon. This turned out to be pretty time-consuming. There didn’t appear to be any way to do this from my article list view. Why not?
But I was in for an even bigger surprise: When I had a page open and tapped the button to add an icon, I was greeted with my iPhone’s icon sets. What the heck? I don’t know if you’ve seen the icons that are part of iOS or not. Let’s just say they’re selected with consumers in mind, not business people.
I encountered a similar situation in the desktop version of Notion. When I attempted to add an icon to a page, what appeared were the icon sets that are part of Windows’ symbol fonts, such as Wingdings.
On both the smartphone and desktop Notion applications, you can select and insert an external image. I did that with a number embedded in a green circle for one of my pages. But the number of taps required to accomplish this was just too many to repeat for all of the pages I’ve created in my Notion account.
Why icons matter
When we’re dealing with large quantities of information, icons matter – a lot! They help us visually index large amounts of information. They’re visual “shortcuts,” if you will. They can communicate priority, content type, dates and much more.
Icons need color, too. They shouldn’t be monochromatic black, as Windows symbol fonts are. Why? Because color adds context. One simple example leverages the metaphor of a traffic light. A red icon could mean an item is urgent and requires immediate attention. A yellow icon could mean an item is moderately important. And a green icon could indicate low priority.
What model should Notion follow for icons?
Mind mapping software developers are a great source of inspiration. Most of the popular business-focused mind mapping programs have families of icons that you can easily add to map topics in a single click. An example of the icons and images that ship with the popular MindManager program is shown in the video clip below:
Another thing: users should be able to add icons to pages from the list view, not just from the page itself. We should be able to quickly run through a list and prioritize or classify it without having to open each page to do it.
Notion already enables you to tap on a rectangular set of dots to the left of each item in list view. It functions sort of like a right click in Windows, displaying a set of context-sensitive commands. Icons could be added to this menu.
The bottom line
If Notion is serious about positioning its application as a business information management and collaboration tool, it needs a set of native (coded into the software) icon families that users can employ to add greater meaning and context to the information they have stored in it.