Designing the Perfect App Icon

The success of mobile applications starts with its icon (and the visual impression it offers) as a great deal can be learned about the quality of these assets by consumers just by seeing them. 

While most download an app based on recommendations from others, "search" as a means of app discovery is also quite common (read more on App Store Optimization here). As a result, it pays significant dividends to focus one's efforts on creating or designing an app icon that will be noticeable and memorable (as well as functional). 

Icons provide one of the best ways to capture the attention of consumers on the search results as well as in the scrolling app list on most devices. So how can designers or developers create an icon that does that?  

Perhaps the most obvious guidance that can be provided is to simply do whatever is necessary to stand out. Any icon that blends in with a background (perhaps by using muted colors or poor contrast) may be overlooked by the consumer. When it comes to optimizing for the app store that just wont do as

Having bright colors alone, of course, is not a recipe for success. They are important but not enough on their own to really carry much influence. 

Another option that could be considered is that of font and font size. Some brands invest millions in to their logo and should use a recognizable font in key instances if possible. Using logos is also a good idea as consumers that have interacted with a brand previously will (should) know exactly what company the app comes from. 

Here are few more things to keep in mind as you design the perfect mobile app icon:

  • Avoid using words if possible since the name will be used as a descriptor beneath the app; stick to strong visuals.
  • Don't overdesign - keep the focus on one primary visual element.
  • Ensure the visual quality by ensuring that app icons are attractive at whatever size.

There is no shortage of guidance on iconography for mobile apps (check out Google's UI guidelines here) but the best advice you'll receive is to make sure that whatever the platform it contributes to your brand's professionalism.