Visual Indicators

"Information-sensitive designs are exacting and laborious, requiring a deep appreciation of the particular content at hand. More generic approaches to interface design are widespread ... Too many interfaces for information compilations have suffered from television-disease: thin substance, contempt for the audience and the content, short attention span, and over-produced styling."
-Edward Tufte

Just as with printed material, the visual arrangement of content is very important for any web project. While traditional publishing has had hundreds of years to fine tune what works on the printed page, New Media (such as the web) is just that – new. But not entirely new. We can apply some of the same concepts and techniques found in older media. Beyond the organizational and navigational issues raised elsewhere, there are creative approaches and techniques that allow for greater integration of form and content.
Metaphors can be a good way to convey complex information at an almost emotional level. Rosenfeld & Morville have suggested organizational, functional, and visual as the three types of metaphors most suitable for web content. Scenarios can also be used where the use of role playing helps to consider the needs and behaviors of various users. Both of these methods are useful when conceptualizing an overall “user experience”. When creating a visual such as some "universal" icon, it can be tricky. Some things to watch out for, as pointed out in Designing Visual Interfaces, basically come down to problems of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Some of these are:
Misleading Syntax

Ultimately, as Tony Schwartz has explained, effective communication is the result of attaining a certain resonance of qualities that Jennifer Tidwell has summed up as “… a combination of many factors working in concert: color, typography, spaciousness, angles and shapes, repeated visual motifs, texture, images, and cultural references.”

More can be found on interface design from these sites: