That is why you need to know your audience and do a little usability testing on friends, family, and who ever will give you some fresh eyes. They don't know what you are trying to create.
They take up bandwidth
Not really. If they are optimized and the color pallet is low.
If the user gets the "wrong feel" from them, she'll leave
I think that is true with every aspect. Background color, link color, font, terminology, and every other piece of the design also will have the same impact. Once again designers should always know their audience.
They make no sence in the 'code flow' (athough I think that's just the html purist me ;)
I know you are Nick_W. I really can't disagree with you there, but if done well I think you can add more value to your audience than take away from your code flow. Its a give and take. I want to point out the icon (;)) you put in your post. It really says volumes about what you are saying. It is done well and well placed. We are constantly placing these face icons in our posts because, with a small low K picture, you can communicate the true intentions or feelings in your content. WebmasterWorld uses red balls to connote new posts. Brett, this is very effective and a beautiful example of how icons enhance usability.
More than once I've had a larger graphic that I thought would make a great icon, but when shurnk down, it lost it's sense of proportion... the lines got too thin, or small areas of color practically disappeared. When you're working so small that a single pixel of color will substantially change the overall appearance of the immage, I think working pixel-by-pixel in a bitmap editor is an invaluable technique.
I understand exactly where you are coming from mivox, but there is a secret that an icon designer that worked for a huge software company let me know. I use a shareware program called microangelo for icon development. It has a wonderful screen capture function. It will screen capture in normal icon sizes. I create my icons in freehand. Then I bring it into PhotoShop. At this point I zoom way out on the picture. PhotoShop’s shrinking abilities are ok but not excellent. But if you zoom out, you can get a better-looking image. Do a screen capture of the image zoomed out. You then paste in your program and use it as a framework. Touch up in our icon program. Touch up may take some time and you may need to go back to the original and tweak and repeat.
I do agree that what works for the individual is always best. I just wanted to let everyone know what works for me.