The secrets to designing attention-grabbing app icons 

blurry iPhone home screen

We often hear the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words to point out that sometimes images provide a much more powerful and effective way of conveying messages and ideas than words that can often fall short. There are many areas where this adage can be applied, but the one that we’re going to focus on lies in the digital realm. We’re talking about the all-too-familiar apps that have become an integral part of our lives in the past few years.

We’ve come a long way since the creation of the first mobile app. A quick look at the App Store is more than enough to get an idea of how competitive the app market has become over the years. So, it’s not enough for an app to bring innovation and utility to the table anymore in order to attract attention and get people interested in what it has to offer. For an app to be successful, it needs an intriguing and visually appealing icon – an icon that gives users a clue about the app’s purpose while also being easy on the eye and creative.

Since the app icon is the very first element people see when interacting with the product, there’s a lot at stake here. Icon design has become a discipline in its own right, with lots of particularities that one has to take into consideration during the creation process. So how can you achieve that perfect balance between functionality and aesthetics and create attention-grabbing icons that can help your apps perform great in the App Store?

While icon design is not an exact science, there are some general guidelines that can help you craft amazing icons for all types of apps. So here are some of the most important aspects to take into account when designing an app icon.

Start with research

The process of creating great icons very much resembles the process of creating a brand logo, since icons and logos have a lot in common. So, if you want to take the short route, you can hire a professional designer to come up with an original icon for your app, just like you would hire a design company to get a custom logo for your brand. But you can also take matters into your own hands and put your design skills to good use. And the first aspect you should focus on is research.

This might sound strange, as you want to create something new, not waste time on Google search. But you won’t be wasting your time at all. This step is important because it will help you come up with a concept for your icon that is related to the app’s purpose. You’ll also come across different icon design approaches for similar apps, and that can point you in the right direction. So, hit that search button until you find an idea that is worth putting into practice.

Take the less is more approach

It can be tempting to include a variety of elements into your icon design in order to convey the right message and help users gain a clear idea of what the app is about. But remember, you’re designing an app icon, not writing a guidebook, so try not to go overboard with the visual elements. Using text and words is usually not a good idea, unless it’s absolutely essential.

Crowding such a small place with too many graphics can be detrimental to your purpose. Instead of helping users, it can make them feel confused, and no one wants to waste their time trying to decipher the story behind an app icon. Follow the less is more approach instead and choose a simple yet powerful symbol to communicate what you want to express.

Think of scalability

Another reason for keeping things simple when designing an app icon is scalability. Your app icon will appear differently depending on where it will be displayed on the platform. Size will vary based on location, so it’s essential to design an icon that looks great and remains legible no matter where it’s placed.

Overcrowded icons will obviously fail this test, which stresses the importance of taking scalability into consideration from the concept stage. If your icon is not intelligible when scaled to different sizes, consider simplifying or eliminating visual elements, or even coming up with a different design concept.

Be original

Creating an original icon is a pretty obvious requirement, but it’s also a very difficult goal to achieve. You would be surprised at how many designers fall into the trap of thinking they’ve created something special and unique, only to discover they’ve used a concept that has been rendered countless times before in a similar manner.

The research stage should help you avoid this common mistake. Take the time to investigate the concepts you’re considering and see what others have done before you. Stay away from overused ideas or try to take a different direction than the rest to ensure you’re not creating another copy that will get lost in the crowd.

Make it memorable

Uniqueness and originality go hand in hand with recognizability. When a user sees the icon, it has to associate it immediately with the app it represents. That’s what recognizability is all about. Making sure your icon is easily recognizable is a lot more complicated than it sounds, since it’s quite difficult to predict how people will interpret and react to a certain design.

However, there are a few tips that can help in this respect. Simplicity is always a good starting point for creating memorable app icons. Symbols that are simple are much easier to be remembered, so they have greater chances of creating a visual impact and stick in one’s mind. Consistency is also a key element in the equation. Connecting your icon design to elements used in the app’s interface can give a sense of continuity and create a coherent story around it.

As you can see, designing killer app icons can be a tricky business, but with the right approach and a sprinkle of creativity you can achieve great results.