design · 18 Feb 2021 ·Clock8 min

How To Create An Amazing App Icon

Galina Yatsuk

Galina Yatsuk

UI/UX Designer

create an app icon
Illustration by Amir Kerr

With around 2.87 million applications available on Google Play and 1.96 million apps in the App Store as of Q3 2020, users have an ocean of apps to dive into. Developers, however, suffer from stiff competition. 

To gain the users’ attention and win a larger market share, a business should perfect every single detail about their app. In this article, we will discuss why an app’s icon is important and how to make a competitive icon for an application. 

First, let’s define what an app’s icon is. Remember those small images that you click on to run your favorite mobile applications? That’s what we are talking about. 

Some believe that the app’s icon is a logo in the app business. While they do have some similarities – both tune your brand identity – there are more differences:

  • Approach to work
  • Used tools
  • Overall design process
  • Metrics 

Why Care About an App’s Icon? 

What do human brains process faster, images or text? The former; visuals are processed significantly faster than text. 

In other words, when a user comes across your app, its icon is going to be one of the first aspects they notice. That’s why an app’s icon plays an important role in App Store Optimization (ASO). 

Although an icon may still seem like a rather insignificant part of your mobile application, we believe otherwise due to the following:

  1. An app’s icon contributes to the number of downloads. Since 70% of users look for apps in App Store, the icon needs to be catchy. It’s the first aspect users see; therefore, the developers should work on creating a stunning first impression. Besides, a unique icon will stand out from others on the home screen, drawing attention to the app and encourage users to spend more time in the app. 
  2. The icon is the bridge between a user and an app. In many cases, books are judged by their covers. In this case, apps are judged by their icons. A beautiful icon can serve as a wrapping to your app, which can peak interest. While features do matter, a user may never discover them if the app doesn’t appeal to them on an aesthetic or emotional level, and this aesthetic and emotional connection drives the app’s virality. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Stunning App Icon

Step 1. Concept

Here are three rules for you to follow when developing a design idea for an ideal app icon:

  1. Focus on your audience. For an icon to work as a marketing tool that drives downloads, it must be attractive to your target audience. This should be reflected in an icon’s colors, patterns, and overall design.
  2. Be authentic. You will hardly establish your brand identity if your icon looks like your competitor’s. Moreover, with a bad icon, you may get a bad reputation, confuse users, and alienate clients if your icon isn’t authentic to your brand. 
  3. Describe using visuals. The icon should tell of your app. To do so, you can create a list of descriptive keywords and brainstorm about how to present these keywords as symbols. From there, the symbols can be the basis of the icon’s design. 

Step 2. Platform Guidelines

When creating an app, adhering to the OS’s interface is a must. In other words, you have to be both authentic and fit in with the other icons in the app store. You should fully understand your chosen store’s guidelines before designing your app’s icon to avoid unwanted surprises in the future. 

Both iOS and Android have worked out a specific set of rules about patterns, style, layouts, etc. You can find Android's design guidelines here: Design for Android, and you can click the following link to review iOS’s interface guidelines: iOS Human Interface Guidelines. Below, we’ve created a summary of these store’s key differences:

 Google Play Store (Android)App Store (iOS)
Dimensions512px × 512px

iPhone: 180px × 180px (60pt × 60pt @3x), 120px × 120px (60pt × 60pt @2x)

iPad Pro: 167px × 167px (83,5pt × 83,5pt @2x)

iPad, iPad mini: 152px × 152px (76pt × 76pt @2x)

App Store: 1024px × 1024px (1024pt × 1024pt @1x)

Format32-bit PNG PNG 
Color modesRGB sRGB or P3 
ShapeSquare - Google Play automatically rounds off corners (20% of icon size) and add shadows Square without shadows or rounded corners 

However, the varying guidelines don’t mean that you have to develop a different for each OS. Creating one icon design and adjusting it can save time, money, and effort. 

grid.png

Step 3. Design

One out of five millennials will delete an application due to an unattractive icon, according to Comscore. With this in mind, developing an aesthetically-pleasing image is probably as essential as thinking through the app’s functionality. Now that you know the guidelines, we can provide tips to consider during the design stage: 

Remember Scalability

The icon represents the app in multiple places, like in the app store and on the home screen. Consequently, its size will differ, and you need to make sure that your icon will look good anywhere. 

Although the loss of details is inevitable, clarity and original idea should remain. Besides, the app’s icon should be optimized for various devices. To preview your icon in different formats, consider using tools like Appsparky for testing.

Keep Details to a Minimum 

An icon should be symbolic. The best way to reach your desired outcome is to minimize the number of details used in the icon’s design. Simplicity is key, after all. 

A simple design will deliver a clear message as well as fit in with the current minimalistic design trend. Besides, a simple icon helps to reduce confusion among your users; the simpler the design, the easier it is to comprehend. We advise choosing one symbolic element and make it central to the icon’s final design. 

Be Unique and Recognizable 

We have already highlighted the importance of a unique app icon. First, a unique image is recognizable. Since it appeals to the target audience, it provokes an emotional connection with your users. 

Second, uniqueness provides a competitive advantage. You hardly want to use the same patterns and colors that other developers use. Avoid copying, as copying another design likely means that:

  • You might unintentionally promote your competitors. Having similar icons increases the risk of reminding users about similar applications.
  • You may lose your connection with your audience. Today, consumers value authenticity. They don’t want to deal with replicas or ripoffs. 

Choose Colors Carefully

Needless to say, colors affect the overall perception. Color can speak volumes and appeal to the human subconscious. Here are three rules to follow when considering your icon’s color palette:

  • Make a statement. The right color can make your icon eye-catching. Go bold and attract the user’s eyes. You can even consider best practices from leading brands. For example, the majority of leading brands’s icons are blue, followed by red, and then white. However, don’t overdo it with vibrancy: two contrasting colors are enough.
  • Reflect on your brand’s identity. We can’t stop highlighting the importance of brand identity. The icon’s color palette should represent your brand. As colors can evoke feelings and have specific meanings, select your icon’s color to match the soul of your app. 
  • Remain aesthetic. Don’t try to stand out with too many colors. You should always maintain balance for the color scheme to appeal to users. Moreover, the icon should be able to look nice across several types of phone backgrounds.

Symbols Over Text 

You don’t need text to make your app icon comprehensible. In fact, you can abandon text and speak with symbols that represent your brand identity. 

However, if you still want to use text, keep it to a minimum. You can embed the app’s name if it’s short like BBC. 

In any other case, it’s better to limit text to a single letter. For example, Skype uses an “S,” and Facebook uses an “F.” Adding too much text undermines the icon’s readability, and it may not be legible at smaller sizes. 

Be Informative

An effective icon is the one that speaks volumes. In other words, it can provide context about the functionality of your application. 

For instance, an e-commerce app may feature a bag to represent shopping, an app for reading could feature a book, a music app might want to feature a music note, and a fitness app may have a flame that represents burning calories. 

Although these descriptive symbols are rather primitive, they are easy for a user to understand. If you embed a complicated symbol, you risk confusing users and, therefore, ruin your chances to establish a connection.

music icons.png
Music apps' icons

Step 4. Testing

The path to a perfect icon is found through testing. Without feedback, how else can you be sure if your icon is going to work as designed? 

During this phase, developers create several icon designs and then test them. There are two stages that should be completed during the testing phase, including:

Conduct a Focus Group Test

How to know that the icon appeals to your target audience? By testing. The most widespread approach is A/B testing, which means that you show two design ideas to two separate focus groups that represent your target audience. 

During testing, these groups take an opinion poll to provide feedback on whether the icon fits your app’s vibe and their thoughts on the icon’s design. You can also compare against competitors’ icons to assess if your icon attracts more attention.

You can also use some of the most common tools of A/B testing. Android developers can use Google Experiments, which lets them test various attributes — including their icon. iOS developers can use Facebook, which is one of the top-ranking services on both web and mobile, and that makes it ideal for A/B testing.

If, however, you run out of budget, you can turn to a more affordable method. Instead of focus groups, show the icons to your friends, employees, and family to gather feedback. 

Conduct a Technical Test

During a technical test, you will be testing using:

  • Different devices to optimize the icon to various screens
  • Several differently-sized icons verify the icon’s integrity at any size 

After all testing, you won’t have to guess whether your app’s icon is successful or not. You will know for sure.

What Tools Can You Use to Create an Icon?

Graphic Editors or Design Applications

Those who have experience working with graphics editors like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator can create the icon using that software. These professional tools offer extensive functionality when designing. Also, there are specific design applications like Adobe XD, Sketch, and Figma that provide quite the same capabilities, but are commonly used by UI/UX designers. 

Related: 7 Reasons Why We Switched from Sketch to Figma

Online Services

If your graphic design skills leave much to be desired, you can choose a simpler path and design an icon with the help of online services. These services are more intuitive and offer various templates. These online services include tools like Canva, Logaster, Appicon, Iconsflow, and Font Awesome

Related: Top 25 Tools For Mobile App Designers

Summing Up

Long gone are the days when an app’s icon was a mere image that users click on to run an app. Today, it’s an integral part of a brand’s identity and the first touchpoint between your app and a user. 

The icon plays a key role in whether a user’s attention is drawn to your mobile application. Moreover, it’s an ideal tool to present your functionality and transfer your brand’s message before users even open your app. 

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