In an increasingly competitive market, mobile apps can no longer be developed with just functionality as the primary focus. With the average smartphone user frequenting just 10 apps daily on their devices these days, what will convince consumers to download and try a new app?

On platforms such as the App Store, 70% of its visitors use the search function to discover apps, with only 65% of downloads occurring immediately after; hence creating an impactful first impression has never been more critical.

Crafting compelling copies and coming up with catchy names are undoubtedly essential when developing an app, but the best way to grab the consumer’s attention is… a killer app icon.

Humans are visual creatures, and with the app icon choice being all but aesthetic, here’s a guide on how you can achieve the perfect app icon.

Simply Symbolic

It’s often said that there’s beauty in simplicity, and a minimal design has the potential to become bold and unique under the right conditions.

Take the (in)famous Tinder; the icon makes use of just three colors, and while the silhouette of fire is hardly unique, the white flame amidst a predominantly red backdrop is instantly recognizable.

As a dating app meant to help connect people and ignite sparks, the flame sigil holds relevance to Tinder’s goals and even its name. Through this association, consumers will also be able to make an educated guess regarding the app’s function before reading about it.

Colour Me Curious

According to MindSea, colors play a role in app psychology. While red, blue, and white are among the most used colors, they fall behind other colors in different categories. For instance, red features heavily in food and drinks-related icons, while usage fell below 5% on health and productivity apps.

Of course, the colors used must align with the brand. To maintain a strong recognisability, the color palettes should remain consistent throughout the app.

On a side note, app developers with no design background can find a comprehensive guide on finding the right contrast and general color theory.

Putting Up Borders

A strategically placed border, combined with color contrast, can make an app icon stand out further. Making creative use of a border can provide a 3D effect as seen on TikTok’s emblem, and designers should ensure that the colors in and outside of the border are used in a cohesively contrasting manner to make it pop.

The world’s most popular photo publishing platform, Instagram, uses three colors in total while including borders to create a complementary contrast which forms the motif of a camera.

Too Much Content, Too Little Space

Conversely, designers should avoid clutter and complexity. Sure, it may have fancy features when zoomed into, but mobile apps are ultimately built for mobile devices. This smaller scale is not flattering and could result in lesser downloads because consumers can’t decipher the visual.

Similarly, don’t include complex photos. However, if the picture is simple enough and only contains a maximum of three colors, designers can consider using a Vector Image variant.

More Than Words

Due to the app icon’s size, words are difficult to read. Leave the text for the app description, where consumers will be able to properly view the words, and focus on creating a desirable icon.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Enter LinkedIn; a world-renowned professional networking platform. With an app icon comprising of just the word “In,” consumers will be able to associate these letters with the rest of its logo. However, this works only because LinkedIn is already established and might not apply to newer brands.

Do Your Homework

Have a good look at how your competitors’ app icons look like. Analyze and decipher what can be done differently to help you create a distinguishable icon.

For instance, email apps feature a similar visual – an envelope icon – and incorporate the same colors. To stand out, consider using a symbol that’s closely related instead and use brand-representative color combinations.

Shall We Begin?

App developers may be able to find free app icon makers online, but there’ll always be constraints with a non-paid model. The best way to get an original icon without any limitations is through professional illustrating software such as Adobe Illustrator. There’re free tutorials available for users of all levels on how to create an app icon using Illustrator.

Alternatively, developers can collaborate with professional graphic designers. Conduct thorough research into the candidate’s background and portfolio to ascertain their competence in designing app icons. Another tip would be to avoid sites like Fiverr and Upwork, heading straight to LinkedIn to find a reputable designer with the right testimonials. You get what you pay for, and that premium service comes at a price.

It’s also recommended to create a few icon variations before picking “The One.” A side-by-side comparison helps with eliminating undesirable elements and incorporating the best aspects into the final design. This variation also helps when pitting the different icon designs against varying wallpapers to find the best icon design. Besides sketching those designs, a professional graphic designer can assist with transposing design ideas into something tangible.

Bear in mind that app icons must meet size requirements – app stores will reject submissions that violate sizing guidelines.

Subsequently, conducting A/B testing on different app icons removes any guesswork and doubts when choosing the best icon design. This also provides insights into which would best resonate with target audiences. On the Android platform, this can be done for free, while on iOS, testing can be conducted on third-party applications or through the paid Apple Search Ads.

A great tip for A/B testing icons can be found here, while a guide A/B testing for the entire app itself can be found here.

Of course, these are but some of the best practices when creating an app icon. Like mobile devices, the standards of good app design are always evolving, and this means that icons themselves will change to suit the apps they front. In the meantime, try these guidelines out and increase the chances of creating a killer app icon that can inspire more downloads.

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