It’s no coincidence that the most successful apps often have the best icons. What may appear to be simply just a colourful and decorative tile, in actual fact the app icon plays a massively significant part in how potential users perceive an app’s worth, and can even make all the difference between deciding to download or not.
With both the App Store and the Google Play store now each containing in excess of 1.2 million apps, designing the perfect and most memorable icon is essential for making your app stand out in this ever more crowded marketplace. The art of icon design is indeed a very delicate and intricate discipline, and, while exactly what your design will consist of will be very much determined by the content of your app, there are still some basic dos and don’ts that you should be aware of when embarking on your app icon design. So, below is a list of some of the best tips for designing an app icon that should put you in good stead when starting out.
Keep It Simple
Perhaps the most important rule of app icon design is to keep things simple. App icons are by necessity very small designs, so you must always consider this when it comes to the drawing board. You’ll probably be using a full screen desktop monitor for your illustrations, but you must always bear in mind that the icon will be shrunk down to sometimes less that a centimetre squared (57×57 pixel, normally) when it reaches the app store and then installed on a user’s device. Therefore, those tiny little fine line intricacies that look so brilliant and crisp on the big screen will almost certainly be completely lost when shrunk down, and can even appear as thick-line blurs on a real-size icon.
Your colour palette, too, should be kept to a minimum. If we think about some of the most popular apps – WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Spotify, for instance – these actually use just two. The colours then become associated with the app and the brand, which is great from a marketing perspective in its own right, but the use of just 2 or 3 colours keep the design focused and memorable.
In the spirit of keeping things simple, you should also just focus on the single primary function of your app, and try and capture that in your design. This might be quite tricky, but pare everything back and ask yourself – what’s my app really all about? If you could only tell people about one thing that your app does, what would it be? Try and find the answer to these questions, and then design your icon with a focus on trying to illustrate that core function at a glance.
Try to Use a Unique Shape
It’s always best to try and be unique when attempting to stand out in the crowd. And so, choosing a unique shape for your app icon design is one very simple but very focused method of achieving this. Creating a unique shape for your icon makes it immediately recognisable and memorable both at a distance and at a glance. Think about Vimeo, for instance, or Flipagram.
Avoid Text If Possible
Ok, so Vimeo and Facebook both use text in their icons, but they both consist of a single letter. Pinterest and Vine also use a single letter, but, unless you can do this (and you will notice the trend that is using only the first letter of the app), then it’s best to avoid text wherever possible. This is simply because the text will naturally be too small to read on the icon. So avoid using it at all costs.
Test Your Icon Against Different Wallpapers
This is something that is quite easily forgotten about. Many tablet and smartphone users will have very different wallpapers on their devices, and, while your app icon might look good and stand out against the good old starry night sky, it might not look so striking against any of the others. Indeed, if your app starts to blend in with the background on a handset screen, the user may begin to forget about it, and that could lead to an eventual deletion. So, although it is of course impossible to tell what wallpapers your users will be using, it is best to run as many test on the most popular ones available and make any necessary tweaks and adjustments to your colours and their gradients before launch.
Finally – Be Creative
This of course should be your mantra when it comes to any form of design, and it most certainly applies to the app icon. Never be too obvious (though of course it won’t pay either to be too ‘clever’ or abstract), but use all of your creative genius to get the very most out of your simplistic, uniquely-shaped, text-free, limited-colour design.
Have fun with it, and we look forward to being enticed into downloading your new app with its fabulous icon on our devices in the near future. Good luck!