How to put icons inside tables the easy way
Have you ever wanted to use icons as shorthand in a table and had to manually place them? Perhaps you’ve spent hours aligning grids of dots or Harvey balls by eye. There is a much easier way: use a font whose characters are actual icons.
This technique is probably not new to you; you are likely to have used a Windings or Symbol font to put a tick or a cross in a table column. Those fonts have a few somewhat random shapes and symbols, but they are very outdated.
Enter Segoe MDL2 Assets. That’s a bit of a mouthful; MDL2 stands for Microsoft Design Language 2.0 and it’s a font created for apps. But don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of it.
Segoe MDL2 Assets contains a host of potentially useful mini-icons. (Sometimes people call them ‘glyphs’.) They have a consistent, modern design. Best of all, they come installed as default with Windows 10. (Mac users: accessing the icons is possible, but harder: see the end of the article.)
What’s so useful about these font icons?
The best reason to use these font icons is that you can put them in a table cell like any other text. So you can align and move them with the rest of the text. No more dragging icons around and trying to align them with each table row.
And by using icons in your table to replace text, you make the content quicker and easier to grasp. Plus they take up less space so you can have more width for the columns that contain text.
There is a subset of these icons that we use on a regular basis – see the end of the article for a downloadable slide you can copy and paste from. One way they come in handy is in status reports. Like the one below (we have used more than we normally would, purely to showcase them.)
You can use them in options comparisons, such as this one:
Or to add footnotes to a process or diagram:
Download our sheet of useful Segoe icons
It can be tricky to find the icon you need. Squinting is often involved. So download the file below to get a one-page slide that you copy some of our preferred icons from.
Note: we have included some icons from the Segoe UI Symbol font. This font predates MDL2 Assets, but has a few useful icons in it; especially if you are looking for more ‘solid’ pictures rather than outlines.
Some things to bear in mind:
The Mac user experience is not ideal: most people will not have MDL2 Assets installed. So consider whether you need to distribute your document as a PDF – otherwise everyone else will just see placeholder square or a ? mark. You could embed the font, but this will inflate the file size and isn't great for compatibility. (Note: the font is embedded in the download .pptx above, so if you are a Mac user you will see the icons. But they won’t copy across to other documents unless you install the font – see last section below.)
There is a fairly limited range of icons. If you really need a specific icon, you could find and install a custom font. But be aware that if you do that, you’ll have to embed the font or (preferably) distribute as a PDF.
MDL2 Assets also won’t work on phone versions of PowerPoint - again, you’ll just see squares. So if that’s a deal-breaker, stick to Segoe UI Symbol, which does work.
You know exactly what the icons mean on your slide; you chose them, after all. But remember that your readers can't read your mind - so if it isn’t 100% obvious, provide a key.
Some icon fonts contain emoji. These are slightly different, and the watch-out here is that they will display using the emoji of the device they are viewed on. So they could look very different across Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android. We recommend you avoid these for all but fairly informal content.
If you can’t locate the icon you need and searching is beginning to give you a headache, try this page. Press CTRL+F to search for what you want. You can even select the icon, copy and paste it into PowerPoint and then set the font to Segoe MDL2 Assets. Or you can copy the last four characters of the code that starts with &#x and paste that into the character code box in the Insert Symbols dialog box. (The copy and paste method is probably a lot fewer clicks.)
How to use Segoe MDL2 Assets on a Mac
All Office for Mac applications present you with the standard macOS system symbols when you use Insert > Symbol. These are mainly emoji and a few relatively unhelpful glyphs. But all is not lost; there is a workaround.
- Download and install the font here
- Find the icons you want to use on this site
- Highlight the icon and press Cmd+C to copy it
- In PowerPoint, Cmd+V to paste it into a text box or table cell
- It probably won’t appear correctly; highlight it and set the font to Segoe MDL2 Assets. (If you’ve only just installed that, you may need to quit and relaunch PowerPoint.)
Bear in mind the watch-outs above: don’t forget that other Mac users probably will not have the font installed. If you run into any issues, please let us know.