Last Updated on
January 20, 2024

Mobile App Icon Design Best Practices & Tips

Published in
Key takeaways:

When you launch an app, your app icon design is vital. The first thing a user will see on your App Store page is your mobile app icon. If this doesn't capture attention, people won't even bother to find out more about the benefits your app can offer.

First impressions are most definitely everything when it comes to mobile app icons.

Read on and we'll share some tips on making sure your app icon truly stands out.

The Importance of Standing Out

Far more apps are downloaded directly from Apple's App Store and Google Play than through any number of other avenues, such as app websites, reviews, PPC ad campaigns, Facebook, etc. Recent stats put app store discovery at 70% of app downloads.

That means app store optimization is likely to be a big part of your growth strategy - even if you're also using other channels (such as smart app banners on your website) to get people to download your app.

Yet there are 3.5 million apps in the Google Play Store, and 2.2 million in the Apple App Store (per statista). This means if you don't stand out, there are going to be hundreds of alternatives for your target users to choose instead.

Ensuring that your app stands out and represents your brand effectively on the App Store grid and Google Play libraries really important to guaranteeing your app is as successful as it can be.

Your icon has added value in that - if done well - it promotes repeated use of our app. This is particularly true of apps that don't have obvious utility, such as games and content providers. A great icon can draw the attention necessary to make sure you're on your user's mind when they're looking for a distraction.

Example of App Icon Design in the Google Play store

Mobile App Icon Design Tips

So, let's now share some actionable tips to help you design mobile app icons that stand out and grab the attention of app store viewers.

Hire a professional graphic designer

An experienced designer can help you develop an overall visual style for your app icon, consistent with your app’s design.
Some key tips can help you keep from saturating your icon with unnecessary details that can make it look messy.

Simplicity is king

Overly complex icons lose definition and become unnoticeable on the app store / google play search results pages. While it might be tempting to adorn your logo with as many bells and whistles as your designing software will allow you too. It will definitely catch a consumer’s eye, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Try to keep your design as clean and essential as possible, this is a technique major app companies employ; an easy to remember logo makes an easier to remember app, makes a more iconic icon.

Make your design bold

Focus on a basic concept and try to ensure it really jumps out at you. Take the Angry Birds icon as inspiration: it's original, stands out even at small sizes and really grabs your attention.

Mobile App Icon Design: Angry Birds

Like in any branding exercise, choose a colour palette in advance and work out how to use them in a complimentary layout before worrying about the details.

Make sure the app icon looks good on a variety of backgrounds

Don’t just test your icon on a light or dark background because you can’t predict which wallpaper people will choose. Make sure you're covered for all situations.

For iOS apps, don’t use a transparent background

If you use transparency the resulting icon will appear to float on a black background, which tends to look especially unattractive on the beautiful wallpapers that users choose. On Android, you’re free to use transparent backgrounds to give your icon any shape possible (but keep it simple!).

Use text in moderation

Breaking up striking shapes with unnecessary details that often dilute the overall impact. Some sites advise against use of text entirely; I wouldn't go that far, it can work, but bear in mind that if you do use it, it has to be large and a part of the design - not simply pasted over it, or even worse, long descriptive text.

A couple of icons that do text well are the BBC News app (which is solely made up of text and a classic BBC red background) and the ESPN app (where the highly recognisable brand name is bold, clear and central to the design).

The Prime Video and HBO Max app icons also do this well (Prime Video being aided by the unmistakeable Amazon arrow as part of the logo):

While, with the Nike Run Club app icon, the full name would be too much text to fit onto one icon. They instead use only the acronym of the name, along with the trademark Nike tick:

Mobile App Icon Design: Nike Run Club

Symbols or letters work well

If your brand or logo has a symbol element, then definitely try to use that as your icon's main element, it will help you be instantly recognised by people in your audience and it will keep your branding consistent across platforms.

You can see this from a couple of the examples above - Amazon and Nike have clearly recognisable symbols as part of their app icons, which they use in combination with words or letters.

We can also see from a number of the most popular apps, just how recognisable symbols or simple logos are to us these days:

You probably don't need the app's title to tell which one is TikTok, Zoom and PayPal - the icon does  that for you.

Keep it high quality

The quality of your icon says something to potential users about the quality of your app, remember your icon is the first thing a customer will see of your application.

Part of ensuring you have a beautiful app is credibility. Users intuitively link investment in marketing with investment in a product. Thus a more polished and refined logo naturally makes potential customers think your product is well made and worthwhile.

Need some inspiration?

The best way to figure out how to do something is to learn from successful examples.

Browse the app stores yourself and see how the most successful apps create their mobile app icons. Additionally, check out these icon galleries for more ideas: iOS Icon Gallery and Hongkiat.

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