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Getting the App Icon Right – It’s Trickier than You Think

Updated on October 12, 2015

Some of you might be thinking – It’s just an icon – How tough can it get? Let’s get this straight. An icon is the first thing that users are going to see on the app store (even before the app title). Not to mention, you have as less as 5 seconds and a 0.5 x 0.5 inch square of real estate to work with. And you think you can pull it off just like that – Think again!

We tried to demystify what makes or breaks an app icon. Here are some of the insights we uncovered. Hope, it helps you to design your icon better.


1. Think Small. Really Small

One thing that even good designers miss while creating icons, is making it scalable. Sometimes the elements you are trying to highlight in an app appear beautiful on large screens but not so much on small screens. User Scalability is crucial. Make sure, when the user switches from an iPad to an iPhone, the icon scales gracefully and looks fuss-free. It needs to be consistent across multiple devices. A good practice to facilitate consistency is to develop the icon on a grid.

2. The Great Trick to Make it Stick

Until your icon has recognizability, you are going to be forgotten any time sooner. The icon needs to stick in their heads and hearts. The best way to do that is to make your icon stand for something. If users look at your icon and instantly think of what it does – It would be really cool. The best icons reflect the functionality of an app. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you look at the following icons:


Need we say more? In all of these icons, you would take not more than 2 seconds to tell what the app does.

3. Don’t Do Everything. Do One Thing Great

Mind the space - Cramming in too much in your icon, ends up confusing or distracting the user. That’s what poorly designed icons do and that’s why they lose the user. In contrast, a good icon focuses on one thing and pull it off with élan. Embrace simplicity – It’s hard to come by!

4. Ditch Generic. Be Iconic

Some people think there’s no winning formula for creating icons - It either works or it doesn’t. We disagree. The best developers and DIY app builders stick to some designing standards and one of them is not taking the beaten path. A generic icon is bound to be lost in noise. A novel icon stands out and gets your app noticed.

5. Text. Let’s Get it Out of the Way!

That’s an icon there – it’s already 1000 words. Why would you add more words to it? Putting text in an icon distracts from the design. Though using the first letter of your brand won’t really hurt. The design needs to be clever and self-referential without having to depend on text - It doesn’t tell, it shows.

6. It’s Not How it Looks. But How it Feels

The users don’t remember the colors or images in an icon – they remember the emotion it evokes. The rule of thumb is that until your icon touch their heart – they’ll not tap their finger on your app. Your users don’t just want apps, they are looking for compelling experiences. Look at the cute angry bird icon. Looks angry. Doesn’t he? But it serves the purpose right – Bring a smile to your face.


Iconically speaking, it’s a good practice to create and test several variations of your app icon before launching. Choose an app maker that allows for a free pre-launch on-device trial.


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