From the obscure and niche – to the bold and popular, app icon inspiration can come from a variety of places. The beauty of designing an app icon, is that you have some room to play with and unlike other icon designs – you’re given greater freedom to explore and experiment.

As it’s one of our favourite topics, in this post, Creative Freedom will explore the variety of inspirations for app icon designs, ranging from the simplistic to the complex.

Icon design in 2017

We’ve noticed how app icon design, in the last few years, has entered a transition period. In our recent post – ‘The State of Icon Design’ – we explored how the likes of Instagram, Twitter and Netflix have stripped away their more elaborate designs for something more simplistic. What we gathered from this was that consumers’ attitudes and knowledge of the apps in question had changed, therefore it was only natural for these brands to remove the more fussy aspects of their icon designs in favour of the more minimalist and, basically, more grownup:

“The majority of users are now “digital natives”, who don’t need silly visual cues and other childlike imagery to differentiate between one thing and another. More than anyone else, digital brands don’t set the trends – their users do.”

So, keeping this in mind, for anyone designing an app icon today, the more minimalist the better. As a brand offering a digital experience, the icon needs to be kept in line in with the increasing online savviness of the intended user.

Simplistic quality

Designing an icon that epitomises a sense of simplistic quality should be your mission in 2017. So far this year, we’ve seen a number of concept ideas from designers that keep true to this exact formula. In this article from Hongkiat, you will see a range of color combinations, visual effects, across multiple genres.

App icons on a keyboard

The language of app icons

Yes, the app icon is all about language, it’s the language of visuals. Essentially, the best app icon designs are inspired by colours, shapes and its intended purpose. For example, Netflix famous “N” was created to look cinematic, still to this day, with its redesign, the font for the “N” has a 1940’s movie poster style to it. Their design team have done a great job at tying the symbolism of the icon directly to the functionality of the app.

Symbolism is an awesome direction for your design, but the actual function of the app has its own inspiration, a good example is Twitter, which you could say is partly symbolic, is a fantastic way of summarising what the functionality of the social media site is all about – twittering i.e. chatting in short bursts.

Seek out inspiration from your peers

One of the best ways to really get the creative juices flowing is to look at what your peers are up to. There are many awesome sites out there were fellow designers share their creations. Behance is the biggest and the best, featuring a thousands of brilliant designs in a range of styles. There’s also Dribbble, and a number of other platforms which have sprung up, such as Desinion.

In basic terms, to create an app that’s beautiful, identifiable and memorable you have to combine two things – subtlety and perceptibility. The subtlety comes from the shapes and elements you use and the perceptibility comes from the use of colour, combined with the shapes.

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Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

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