With around 3.57 million applications available on Google Play and 1.84 million apps in the App Store, users have an abundance of apps to choose from. Developers, however, have got the short end of the stick and suffer from stiff competition.
To gain the users' attention and win a larger market share, a business should make every single detail of their app perfect. App icons play a vital role in attracting new users and making them download your application. A distinctive, memorable app icon helps your application stand out from the competition, increasing conversion and boosting brand awareness.
In this article, we will tell you all about app icons and how to make an app icon that cuts through the noise.
Why you should care about an app icon
What do human brains process faster: images or text? In fact, 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 come across. That's why an app 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:
- An app icon contributes to the number of downloads. Since 70% of users look for apps in the App Store, the icon needs to be catchy. It's the visual anchor for your app. Therefore, the developers should work on creating a stunning first impression. Besides, a unique icon will stand out from the rest on the home screen, drawing attention to the app and encouraging users to spend more time in the app.
- The icon is the bridge between a user and an app. In many cases, books are judged by their covers. In this case, mobile apps are judged by their icons. A well-designed app icon can serve as an elegant wrapping for your app that can peak users' 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 is what drives the app's virality.
A step-by-step guide to designing custom icons
To create icons, you don't have to be a rocket scientist. However, there's a lot of preparatory work that goes into icon design. And despite the icon's apparent simplicity, you still need the chops to pack powerful visuals in such a small space.
Step 1. Shape the concept
Groundwork is essential to create an app icon design that resonates with the audience and builds on the latest trends. To polish your concept, make sure to:
- 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 mobile app design.
- Research your niche. Analyze competitors' app icon designs to see how your idea stacks up against the competition. Here, you should balance creativity with the overall trends in creating app icons.
- Be authentic. Although you should peer into your competitors' apps, make sure your app icon doesn't replicate the ones of competitors. Moreover, you may get a bad reputation, confuse users, and alienate clients if your icon isn't authentic to your brand.
- Align the app icon with the app's purpose. The icon should tell about 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. Align your app icon design with platform guidelines
It's not enough to create custom icons and download them to app stores. You need to make sure your app icon meets the requirements of a particular operating system. In other words, you have to be both authentic and fit in with the other icons in the app store. You should fully understand the guidelines of the target app store before designing your app's icon to avoid penalties in the future.
Both iOS and Android have worked out a specific set of rules about patterns, style, and layouts your app icon should stick with. You can find guidelines for an Android app icon here, and you can click this link to review iOS's interface guidelines. Below, we've created a summary of the key differences between the two app stores:
|Google Play Store (Android)||App Store (iOS)|
|Dimensions||512px × 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)
|Color mode||sRGB||sRGB or P3|
|Shape||Square - Google Play automatically rounds off corners (20% of icon size) and adds shadows||Square without shadows or rounded corners|
However, the varying guidelines don't mean that you have to develop a different app icon for each OS. Creating one icon design and adjusting it to multiple platforms can save time, money, and effort.
Step 3. Design your app icon
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 visual is probably as essential as developing the app's functionality. Now that you know the guidelines, here are some tips to get your app icon creation right:
The icon represents the app in multiple places, including app stores and home screens. The size of the icon will differ in each case, and you need to make sure that your icon will look stunning across the screens.
Although the loss of details is inevitable, clarity and original idea should remain wherever your mobile app shows up. Besides, the app 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 achieve attractive symbolism is to minimize the number of details used in the icon design. Simplicity is key.
A simple design will deliver a clear message and pay homage to the current minimalistic design trend. Besides, a simple icon helps to reduce confusion among your users. The simpler the design is, the easier it is to comprehend it. We advise choosing one symbolic element and making it central to the icon's final design.
Be unique and recognizable
Riding the wave of design trends is important, but creating your very own app icon that emerges from the pack is even more crucial. First, a unique image is recognizable. As it appeals to the target audience, it provokes an emotional connection with your users.
Second, uniqueness provides a competitive advantage. You don't want to use the same patterns and colors that other developers have used thousands of times before you. Also, avoid copying, as copying another design means that:
- You might unintentionally promote your competitors. Having similar icons increases the risk of accidentally boosting similar applications.
- You may lose your connection with your audience. Today, consumers value authenticity, so they don't want to deal with replicas or ripoffs.
Choose colors carefully
Needless to say, colors affect the overall perception of an app icon. 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. Colors carry a tale of their own, so the choice of a color scheme is quintessential to the icon design. The right color can make your icon stand out, while the wrong color combination can turn the users away. To make the right call, you can consider best practices from leading brands. For example, the majority of leading brands' icons are blue, followed by red, and then white. But keep in mind that two contrasting colors are enough to make a splash.
- Align the colors with your brand's identity. The icon's color palette should represent your brand. As colors can evoke feelings and have specific meanings, make sure to select your icon's color to match the soul of your app.
- Keep aesthetics in mind. Don't try to stand out by being too colorful. Your app icon should be vibrant yet subtle to appeal to users. Moreover, the icon should look nice across several types of phone backgrounds.
Choose 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 the 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 in smaller sizes.
An effective icon is 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 can 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 quite generic, they are easy for a user to grasp. If you embed a complicated symbol, you risk confusing users and, therefore, ruin your chances of establishing a connection.
Step 4. Run tests
The path to a perfect icon is found through testing. Without feedback, how else can you be sure that your icon is doing its job?
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
A/B testing is the most widespread approach to testing the icons, 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 write down their thoughts on the icon's design. You can also compare your icon against competitors' icons to see whether 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 icons. 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, you can demonstrate the icons to your friends, employees, and family to gather feedback.
Conduct a technical test
To perform a technical test, you need:
- Different devices to see how the icon adjusts to various screens
- Several differently-sized icons to verify the icon's integrity at any size
After testing, you won't have to guess whether your app's icon is successful or not. You will know it 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 an icon using that software. These professional tools offer extensive functionality when designing. Also, there are specific design applications like Sketch or Figma that provide quite the same capabilities but are commonly used by UI/UX designers.
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, Appicon, Looka, Iconsflow, and Font Awesome.
Long gone are the days when an app's icon was just an image that users clicked 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. Simple, elegant, and memorable app icon ensures instant recognition for your brand and increases the odds of the app's success.