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Project Icons: can we have something more subtle/configurable?

Jan-Hendrik Spieth October 18, 2022

So, we got started with Atlas and did create a couple of goals and projects, and we're checking how this can help us boost our cross-team communication.

Personally, I can connect to Atlas' playful visual style. But I've come to almost hate one thing concerning visualization: project icons!

The project icons are

  • limited to a very small set of background colors with high saturation and
  • a fixed emoji set that's boasting with color.

On top of that, many combinations of bg color and icons show very poor color contrast.


Whenever I see a set of projects listed, I can't help but wish away the icons! It's color chaos without any use. When scrolling through the weekly report, the icons add no meaning. Their coloring in fact can be rather confusing.

I tried to improve this by using only specific bg colors and choose emojis which suit the project and still give some contrast. But the end result is still unsatisfactory.

Screenshot 2022-10-18 143623.png

What I can imagine instead, just some ideas:

  • tune down bg colors' saturation, and give us a few more values (check out JPDs color set for selection fields)
  • use monochromatic (or even black/white or white only) emojis/icon sets
  • let us add custom icons
  • apply status color to bg (just like for goals)

Personally, I think I'd like most to "sync" project icons with the related epics/issues Jira project icon. And if not that, then subtle bg colors and monochromatic icons.


What's planned for this?

What does everyone else think about this?




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Raquel Cueto-Senra October 18, 2022

Hi @Jan-Hendrik Spieth I opened this ticket WF-1532 Emojis uploaded to other parts of the platform (Confluence) cannot be used on Atlas because we use customer or project specific emojis already in Confluence, Jira etc and they really help. Hope something like this can be incorporated, along with a filter per colour.

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Jan-Hendrik Spieth October 28, 2022

@Raquel Cueto-Senraafter reading and writing a few more weeklys, I thought why not sync the icon with the related epic/Jira issue, automatically? For any project that has a direct relation to one of our Jira projects, the icon really should be the same.

And is there an update on that WF-1532, already? :-)

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Raquel Cueto-Senra November 17, 2022

@Jan-Hendrik Spieth I haven't seen an update on that ticket, unfortunately. Very keen on seeing custom emojis - exactly as they are available across Confluence and Jira already as soon as you add them to either or.

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October 18, 2022

Hey @Jan-Hendrik Spieth, I'm Bradley, a designer on the Atlas team. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with Atlas so far.

Our hope with the project icons is that teams are able to create a small amount of ownership/branding for their projects. As you have pointed out, in our other projects we allow for users to upload their own image, however what we often observe is that the majority of teams don't leverage this feature and you end up with a lot of repetition of the default icon. Our hope with using emoji is that it reduces the time it takes to create a custom icon and allows everyone to represent their project.

As for the colours, I totally hear you and agree we still haven't got the combinations perfect. We use a third party library for our emoji to ensure predictability across every platform (Mac, Windows, Android, iOS etc.) so this makes things are little tricky as the colour of each emoji is outside of our control. In fact, we have another colour palette live at the moment that we're experimenting with. If you have the time, I'd love for you to check it out and share your thoughts. You can find it by navigating to your team profile and clicking the Add help link button. In there you'll see an emoji picker with an update palette for background colours using more tones. Of course, not every emoji will work with every background colour, which is why we've tried to provide some options.

CleanShot 2022-10-19 at 13.44.03@2x.pngCleanShot 2022-10-19 at 13.42.33@2x.png

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Jan-Hendrik Spieth October 19, 2022

Thanks @bradley for the interesting answer! I understand this is not an easy thing to thing to solve.

Bg colors

In the "Add help link" popup, I don't see a picker with more tones. But the color saturation is clearly tuned down. It's a step into the right direction.

The colors are, apart from turquoise and green, suitable for color blindness, so that seems ok-ish. But let's check the color contrast for one of the help link default icons (note that it's already a "good" icon that doesn't have complex features - others are much worse!):

Screenshot 2022-10-19 084243.png

None of these combinations pass a WCGA color contrast check (the yellow one is the best, with ~2:1). So I think it's clear you're not there, yet!



The benefits of the emoji set are clear. There's a symbol for everything, you could argue. In a way, it's also good that it's the very same set you can use when writing updates.

But the main catch for me with the emojis is that they just not suitable for the job. Food, animals and the like just don't work as sincere representation of tasks/project, imho! Also, I will seldomly need/want to express emotion with the project icon.

Unfortunately, the emoji set has only a few monochromatic/minmalistic icons/shapes, and specifically the ones with white symbols can't be used, because they already have a bg color (or else wouldn't see them on white bgs).

When it comes to the icons' potential to help bring order and a clean look to an update or project list, I believe you really need to apply a minimalistic, Edward-Tufte-like approach. If you don't, it's pure eye candy, and worst case, it makes such listings harder to scan, so leaving them out alltogether would then even be the better option.

Here's some more thoughts/ideas:

  • pick up the icon from the linked Jira issue (usually, just an epic symbol, then ...)
  • pick up the color from the attached tags (won't work well for multiple tags)
  • pick up the status color for bg (again, won't have enough contrast for many emojis)
  • Extend teams to have a key color, and apply that key color as project bg (won't work for mixed/several teams and individuals)
  • add neutral colors (e.g. white, light and dark gray) to the bg color set


More questions about your design approach, I hope you don't mind ... maybe you want to share what the team is thinking:

  • Why do you enforce a non-configurable symbol and status-based bg colors for goals, but not for projects?
  • What bg color would you choose for certain projects, and why?
Marc Bailey October 25, 2022

Suggest doing both. The emoji/colour thing is quick and easy. But still allow people to upload a custom icon if they want to.

Even if many people have not in the other products, there is higher potential here with (likely) a more senior audience and more care factor about project identity.

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Jan-Hendrik Spieth October 25, 2022

From @Raquel Cueto-Senra's answer above it sounds like custom icons might be coming. Not sure we can access the mentioned ticket (WF-1532), though?

Aaron Mosny November 17, 2022

Are there any updates on the potential of using custom icons in Atlas? The Emojis do not do a good enough job of give the project an identity that make sense, or provide enough variety when there are many projects that are in the same "theme". @bradley 

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Raquel Cueto-Senra November 17, 2022

Also expanding on my previous comment, the number of colour options should be increased, and it would be great it one of the filters for projects would be colour too. 

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Kate February 22, 2023

I love the emoji option, but agree that the colour selection doesn't always allow the best visual. 

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