Icons based navigation. Alternatives – User Experience Stack Exchange

I am looking for alternatives to an icon based navigation. The use case is to collapse a menu and still provide way-finding and context with the icons persisting. The IA is flat so breadcrumbs don’t help. Has anyone had to overcome this use case before. I am thinking of testing quick links or personalised navigation. User testing showed that having the icons helped speed up task completion for expert users. But it’s something that goes against UX principles and I wanted to find an alternative.

Any past experience/knowledge or ideas would be super helpful.