App Icon Design — 4 Tips for Better iOS & Android Icons

Mobile apps are no longer designed as an afterthought, as they used to be a few years ago.

These days, you have mobile apps designed even before you think of other branding elements for the business.

The reason being, if you are not on mobile, you are not in front of the user’s eyes. That is indeed a fact!

An excellent mobile app is one that is well defined and designed, as a significant portion of the app’s conversion depends on the user experience design and the user interface of the app.

However, you cannot ignore the app icon design, which also plays a vital role in making the app popular and recognisable.

If you get confused between the app icon and logo, then you are not alone, as both are part of the brand’s image and identity.

However, both icon and logo are different, and you need to understand the intricacies of the two before we move on.

The app icon is a part of the branding for the app.

It is the icon that appears on the screen first and makes you recognise the app on the app store.

It is the element that helps you know what the app is all about and relate to it.

Your brand’s logos are scalable vector designs that are generally designed for the billboards and letterheads, while the app icons are raster outputs that are carved for specific sizes, and frequently used inside a square canvas.

Both are branding elements, but they differ in the approach you take to create them as well as the tools used to design them.

When you are designing app icons, you create them in varying sizes ranging from 29×29 pixels to 1024×1024 pixels.

The reason being they are used in multiple places for multiple purposes, and you need these different sizes for the best fit.

There are various types of icons available in the app marketplace.

Here are three distinct types of icons that you should know.

The Universal Icons

These are icons that have been universally accepted to symbolise a particular aspect of the mobile app.

For instance, the icons used to represent home, shopping carts etc. are universal.

You will not find two different apps using different icons to represent these.

These icons are easy to recognise and lower the learning curve.

The Conflicting Icons

These icons have conflicting meanings.

For instance, the heart icon, as well as the star icon, are used to represent the “add to wishlist” or “mark as favourite” functionality in the app.

However, it is not easy to interpret the meaning without the app mentioning it to you.

The share icons are also different on different platforms.

You will see that these icons that carry various purposes on the different apps are tended to as conflicting icons.

Unique Icons

This is the variety where the icon has been designed to represent only one visual and that too by a particular app or OS.

It will take you some time to figure the icon out, but once you have, it is easy to interpret and use the icon.

Now that you are aware of the different app icons, let’s get started with the tips to design a catchy icon that will help increase the downloads.

1 — The Icon Should be Recognisable

The first thing you should think about when designing the app icon is that it should be recognisable.

Among the different app icons that are present in the app store, ensure that your app icon is different and relatable to the target audience.

When you place your icon amidst other app icons, people should quickly identify the icon as yours. How does this happen?

When you decide to follow the simple rules of visualisation that include attractiveness, simplicity and interpretable, then you have got the right design.

You should ideally follow the specific guidelines mentioned for the platform so that you have the perfect icon.

When working on the recognition aspect of the app, make sure you follow these points.

It would help if you did not design a complicated icon, as that might make it less recognisable.

An intricate design can make the audience turn away from the app.

When you have an icon design in mind, you should ideally try the various palettes and design variations.

Choose a select few from your target audience, and show the design variations to them.

Find out which icon design stays with them.

If you want to get more ideas into how you can design a perfect icon, then choose your favourite icons and find out why they work.

Think on these lines — what makes them perfect, what makes them recognisable, and what sets these icons apart from their competition?

An answer to this question will help you design the app icon.

2 — Consistency is the key to memorable designs

As we have already mentioned earlier, the app icon is an extension to your mobile app.

It would help if you ideally designed the app icon keeping this statement in mind.

For a great and practical design, you should include all parameters of design to create the app icon that you used for the mobile app.

When you create a sleek version of the app and convert it into the icon, you get more retention and make the app icon memorable.

There should be some level of similarity yet some amount of distinctiveness between the icon and the app.

To create a consistent app icon, here are a few points that you need to remember.

The design and the colour palettes that you are planning to use for the app icon should be similar to the one you have applied to the mobile app.

This will make sure that the app icon speaks the same language and tone that you have induced to express your mobile app.

If you have used monochrome tones for the mobile app, ensure your app icon also reflects similar colours.

The other way to rope in consistency is by effectively translating what your app does into an icon.

For instance, if your app is for the food niche, then you ought to use icon designs and images that connect with the niche and the role it plays in there.

3 — No Image, No Words, Only Icon

For those who think an icon is an image that is placed in a square box, stop working on this myth.

An icon is much more than just an image.

It is a visual representation of an app idea that will connect the users to the actual app, and win you downloads.

However, when you are designing an app icon, you should not only avoid thinking of it as an image but also avoid using words in the icon.

Why? The icons are supposed to be visual representations of what you are planning to convey through the app.

If you mix words and pictures in the app icon design, you might make it a cluttered icon, which fails to connect with the users.

The distinctiveness of the app icon is also questioned as a result.

Your intentions may be helpful but, what you are conveying is not what the users are looking for.

Here are a few things that you need to consider when thinking words to design the app icon.

A pictorial concept of the app as an icon will take up less space, will consume fewer parts of the square box, and will connect better. Use the picture instead of the words.

A single letter icon is a good idea and might work for you.

Think of the “in” in LinkedIn’s icon, and you will realise what we are talking about.

You can create such meaningful and exciting icons using words.

Don’t try to fit in the logo or the company’s name in the icon box, as that is a far cry from what you are looking for.

4 — Go for a scalable app icon design

The last thing to consider when designing an app icon is the scalability of the design.

You should make sure that the design can be redefined in various formats, and sizes as you might need to use the icons in multiple places.

For instance, if you have designed the app for both Apple Store and Google Store, then you ought to define the app in different resolutions and sizes, specific to the guidelines mentioned by the individual app stores.

The app icon should look good on different phones as well as retina-display devices, where the app will be accessed.

It is essential to indulge in simple icon designs so that you don’t feel that the icon is squeezed into a small square.

When you are planning your app icon design, make sure you think scalability and whether scaling it would give out the requisite results.

Before finalising the app icon design, make sure you try it out on the different devices and in various sizes.

Your icon design should ideally focus on a single shape or structure.

The idea is to use this structure and try to retain the different contours and qualities while scaling it up.

Finally, check the app icon for the various backgrounds, and see how it looks.

Summing up

A good app icon design is one that is memorable, easy to recognise in the crowded app market, and easy to scale for the different devices and operating systems where it will be used.

When creating the app icon design, the key to making it popular with your target is to keep simple and easy to interpret.

You will be tempted to use a palette of colours but, it is a good idea to keep the colours limited to what is used in the app design so that your audience connects well with the app.

So, next time you start planning for the app icon design, make sure you follow all the four points stated here so that you create a design that connects with your target market.

Author Bio — Sourodip Biswas is a digital marketing professional at Space-O Technologies, a leading app development company, specialising in eCommerce app development. He adores mobile app technology and regularly shares his insights by writing blogs on various websites. In his leisure time, he loves gaming and is always eager to learn new things.

Originally published at on July 22, 2019.

Inkbot Design a Creative Graphic Design Agency in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Experts in Logo Design and Branding.

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