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Use pictograms to communicate in a glance, offer interactivity, or simplify complex ideas. Shown here are examples for many use cases such as websites, product UI’s, signage, events, and merchandise. When used appropriately, they become an elegant addition to the IBM experience.


Productive versus expressive

Productive and expressive pictograms are two distinct types of artwork that work best in different contexts. Productive pictograms are the go-to pictogram type for most contexts; they work across a variety of scales and environments whether physical or digital. They’re illustrative and simple, allowing for one or many to be used to convey complex ideas.

Expressive pictograms represent a more dynamic option to the standard pictogram, using gradients, layering and transparency to build a sense of depth and movement in the artwork. Due to their visual complexity, expressive pictograms should be used selectively and only in scenarios that call for a graphic with strong presence.

Productive pictogram usage example

Productive pictograms in context

Expressive pictogram usage example

Expressive pictogram in context

Pictogram with sufficient sizing

Treat pictograms as illustations with sufficient sizing.

Pictograms at UI icon scale

Don’t use pictograms as a replacement for UI icons, that is not their purpose.

Expressive pictogram as hero graphic

Use expressive pictograms as large, bold graphics.

Don’t overuse expressive pictograms

Don’t overuse expressive pictograms. They should be used sparingly.

Don’t use pictograms as logos

Don’t use productive pictograms as logos or in a lockup for product headers, merchandise or events.

Don’t use pictograms as logos

Don’t use expressive pictograms as logos or in a lockup for product headers, merchandise or events.


Pictograms are used in a range of sizes, the minimum being 48px while the maximum size may vary based on application. Use pictograms at their original sizes or scale at accepted increments.

Differently sized productive pictogramsDifferently sized expressive pictograms


Pictograms are optically aligned to the center of the icon grid within the boundary box. Centering ensures all pictograms will be aligned correctly when exported and used side by side.

Alignment Example


Pictograms can be represented in a circular or rectangular container calculated based on the padding size.

Padding ExamplePadding Example
keep scale and optically center pictograms

Keep pictograms at scale and optically center in container when necessary.

adhere to accepted proportions

Don’t resize pictograms outside of accepted proportions.

use accepted container shapes

Do use accepted shapes: circle or square for containers.

avoid unaccepted container shapes

Don’t create new shapes for containers.

optically center align pictograms in containers

Always optically center align pictograms in their containers.

never crop pictograms in container

Don’t crop pictograms in container.


When designing with pictograms, all artwork should include minimum padding based on 1/4 of the scaled grid size. The padding can be increased by increments of 1/4 grid units.

padding applies regardless of container shape

Padding and spacing rules apply whether using pictograms with or without containers.

padding starts at container edge

Padding starts at the edge of the container shape.

use one fourth grid padding on circle or square containers

Padding is the same for both circle and square containers.

allow clearance for legibility and touch

Follow the clearance rule to allow for legibility and touch.

keep pictogram clearance area

Don’t collapse the pictogram clearance area.


Pictograms on backgrounds must always pass color contrast requirements. When pairing pictograms with backgrounds, follow color family rules to ensure that the pictogram does not clash with or blend into the background. Dark background colors should range between values 70–100 while light backgrounds should not exceed values 10–20.

pictogram with color contrast example
pictogram background example

Follow the 5-step color rule and only match tones from the same color family or use grayscale backgrounds.

pictogram background example

Follow gradient rules when placing them on backgrounds.

pictogram background example

Don’t place dark tones on dark backgrounds.

pictogram background example

Don’t place light tones on light backgrounds.

pictogram background example

Don’t place gradient picto’s on backgrounds that are not 80 and above or 20 and below.

pictogram background example

Don’t place gradient picto’s on gradient backgrounds.

Expressive pictogram color

Expressive pictograms have four color themes: dark, light, monochromatic dark, and monochromatic light. To ensure accessibility, use the color theme that corresponds with the pictogram’s background color.

Expressive pictogram icon in 4 color themes
Background color valuePictogram theme
White, 10–20Light
30–50Monochromatic light (Black)
50–70Monochromatic dark (White)
80–100, BlackDark
Expressive pictogram with correct color theme

Use dark-theme pictograms on dark backgrounds and light-theme pictograms on light backgrounds.

Expressive pictogram with incorrect color theme

Don’t use light-theme pictograms on dark backgrounds or dark-theme pictograms on light backgrounds.

Expressive pictogram on Blue 60

Don’t place expressive pictograms on backgrounds that aren't 80 and above or 20 and below.

Expressive pictogram on gradient background

Don’t place expressive pictograms on gradient backgrounds.

Pictograms in action