At last official count, the iOS App Store featured more than 1.2 million applications, while Android was tipping the scales at 1.3 million options for users. That was last July. Today, the cumulative number of apps in the Google and Apple stores is well over 3.000.000. You could argue then that most critical factor to successfully launching a mobile app is developing an icon and design that stands out from the crowd.
Your app icon is so important to the overall user experience that its design can no longer be an afterthought once the actual development has been completed. Your future users are not going to judge your app based on the type of technologies under the hood. They’re going rate you based on our how your app makes them feel and whether or not it delivers on its value promise. The billions of smartphone users increasingly expect a beautiful and intuitive experience when trying an app for the first time, otherwise the app gets deleted almost as quickly as it was downloaded. There is little room for error.
So the first objective when designing your app icon is to attract new users. You need to pique their curiosity enough that they click on its description in the app store, however designing an attractive icon can mean very different things to different industries and audiences. For example, if you’re operating in the security space, you may need an icon that offers a robust and trustworthy appearance, while a new gaming app may warrant a playful, light-hearted and stylish icon.
Now, once you get the user to download your app, the icon’s work is not done. Your icon must remain a friendly face registering an emotional reaction with the user encouraging them to click it every day.
No matter which audience you’re after, there are some simple rules and best practices applicable to all applications if you want to maximize downloads and user engagement.
1. Avoid text
Since image icons convert more than textual icons, aim for zero text. Ideally, your app and brand is recognizable simply by its symbol or logo featured on the app icon.
2. Keep it simple
Remember just how small the icons appear on a smartphone or tablet. Too many elements become distracting and take away from your overall design. Keep it simple and clear.
3. Mind the wallpaper
While your icon may appear great on a black background or the old iOS raindrops, it might look terrible with a custom image backdrop. Make sure you test your icon against many different backgrounds to see what looks best across the board.
4. See who’s already out there
There’s nothing worse than launching your app and discovering someone else is using your exact same icon, design, colors and all. To avoid this catastrophe, log some hours browsing the app store and comparing your design to existing apps.
5. Let your users decide
We’ve realized that surveys don’t work so well when it comes to design-oriented feedback. Instead, use an A/B testing method on an actual device to see which option your users click on more. We care about what they do, not about what they say they will do.
6. Does it sync with your app design?
Your icon should mesh naturally with the design and color scheme your users will find when they launch your application. Stay consistent and manage their expectations throughout the total user experience. Not doing that will get user to potentially uninstall the app, and impact negatively your ASO strategy.
7. How does it look in Accessibility mode and Dark mode?
Both Android and iOS offer a multitude of viewing preferences to customize the user experience. How will your icon appear if they switch to Dark Mode?
8. Can you use your logo?
If you’ve been around a while and you have a recognizable logo attached to your brand, you may want to consider incorporating it into your app icon. Just make sure your existing logo is aligned with your app’s core functions.
9. Gaming icons should stimulate action
Gaming apps play by a different set of rules. While you still want your icon to stay consistent with the style and design of the app itself, successful gaming app icons tend to be more complex and portray a sense of action that compels the user to start playing right away.
10. Stay up-to-date
Once your icon is decided, you still have to keep it updated to the latest iOS and Android versions.
11. Change with the seasons
Many apps have found success by altering their icons to match with the changing of the season or upcoming holidays. Depending on your audience, a seasonal icon update can create a nice bond with your users.
12. Go crazy
There is no spoon. Now that you know the rules, feel free to break them. Just make sure to test the results of your inner Salvador Dali before you launch your new icon in the app store.