I found 5 freelancers on Fiverr, gave 5$ each of them and asked to draw a bicycle icon. My instructions were very vague, but the experiment was to check if I can compensate it with a very thorough photo reference.

Most people can discern a BMX from a racing bike, and not only by looking for bruises on their owners’ bodies.
If I give a freelancer only a photo reference and ask him to draw me an icon, will that be enough?
fiverintro11

Rules:

  1. No excessive instructions (color, size, etc.). Only a photo.
  2. No revisions, except in one very special case.
Note. You can’t ask much for $5 so I’m not going to criticize these works in terms of their design. However, these examples may benefit both designers and employers. Designers will recognize some thought patterns that accompany good design and potential employers may learn the benefit of precise requirements.

BMX

BMX
bmxicon
The designer didn’t use the reference but gave me a common portrayal of a bike – 2 wheels and an odd frame. Then he played with the handlebars a bit. Instead of one BMX I got 3 city bikes. Good deal?
A plus here is that the designer tried to make an icon recognizable at small sizes, though I never specified such a requirement.
A BMX bike is all about proportions and its low saddle. Here is an example:
BMX (1)

City Bike

citybike
citybikeicon
To be honest the city bike is a lucky ticket for any designer. By simply tracing the contours you get a decent result, no traps. Yet I must mention a few interesting points about this design. The designer left off the carrier though added a lamp… childhood memories, perhaps?

Folding Bike

foldingbike
folding-bike-icon-1
If the city bike is the lucky one, this one is the trickiest. I guess that’s why the guy tried to trick me back by giving me a filtered version of my own photo. So I asked for a revision, and got this:
FoldingBikeIcon2
See, it’s not just about following a contour or even pure simplification. The most critical detail here is the joint, which we need to exaggerate:
Folding

Racing Bike

racingbike (1)
racingbikeicon
There are two critical details that are wrong in this design:
The handlebar. A racer has many miles to cover, so attaching a hot spa stone instead of a curved handlebar to his bicycle would be a very sophisticated form of torture. A curved (or drop) handlebar has many variations but they all look more or less the same in a simplified version – curved.
The seat of a racing bike is usually higher than the handlebars, letting a racer take more horizontal position while riding. Given the fact that the racer is not only steering with a hot spa stone, but also sitting on another one, the whole thing suddenly becomes cruel and possibly even illegal in a few states.
Jokes aside, this is a decent city bike design, but not a racing one. I had to check 3 times if I sent the right reference. Perhaps the guy just sent me one of his old designs and got an easy $5.
Here’s an example:
race

Mountain Bike

mountainbike
mountbike-icon
This is a heart-warming design. The designer copied the reference, but take a look how – he left out unnecessary details, such as cables and spokes, but nailed the most important one for a mountain bike – the suspension.
Yes, not all mountain bikes have such suspension, yet imagine yourself browsing categories on an internet bike shop. This one really conveys the meaning.
The only thing we could do here is to exaggerate the tire tread and the frame width:
mountain

The suspension looks a bit like Harry Potter’s forehead because otherwise it would be unrecognizable at small sizes. An old habit.

It’s not a better version, because I much liked the one I got – it as a colorless version, that looks better at very small sizes.

Summary

Some designers got luckier with their reference than others. Some designers blindly copied their reference while others tried to create something of their own. I have a feeling a pair of these bicycles came right from an image stock. But that’s what you get for $5.
Huge thanks to our designer, Margarita, for the alternative designs

Huge thanks to our designer, Margarita, for the corrected versions

Final thoughts

The conclusion is quite simple – one photo reference, even a good one, is not enough. If you want a more specific design – ask for it explicitly, ask many questions and provide many answers. Or be ready to pay more than $5 and let experienced designers do this part of a job for you.

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Voila.

Do you still think a bike is just handlebars, two wheels, and a chain somewhere in between?

You can download a collection of bikes created for this article here.

If you are a traveling person you may like this ironic story While I Was Redesigning a Boarding Pass, Paper Got Old

On the other hand, we can stay on the topic of icons and learn Tips for Using Icons in Your App


About the Author
Andrew is a usability specialist of Icons8. He started his career as a phone support specialist, telling jokes while customers were rebooting their computers, then moved to usability testing and occasional writing.