Creative Freedom has become increasingly aware of how quickly some of the biggest brands out there today keep changing their logos. From subtle tweaks, to full blown redesigns – has our fast paced, consumer driven world now reached such speed that brands need to continually rethink their entire aesthetic, as well as the services they’re offering customers? Well, it certainly seems that way, especially when it comes to apps, from the likes of Twitter, Instagram, and Airbnb.

Getting back to basics

Specifically, many of these companies are taking their app icon designs more upmarket, ditching the fancy, elaborate motifs and styling in favour of colourful and abstract styles, often looking basic, yet far more sophisticated. Liz Stinton noted this in her article for Wired Magazine late last year: “What’s interesting is how minimal, even abstract, many of these icons have become. Hyper-literal metaphor used to be the cardinal rule of icon design. In the 80s, the icon for the trash folder on a Macintosh was … a trash can. Fast forward a couple decades and Airbnb’s app icon from 2010 was … a suitcase! With destination stickers on it! Designers call this form of literalism “skeuomorphism.” It started falling out of favor a few years ago, as the visual cues began to feel hand hold-y. Like, remember the “bubble effect” that used to delineate buttons on a touchscreen? Nobody needs it anymore. You know how and when to press, tap, and swipe.”

The average user of Twitter and Netflix is far more savvy and sophisticated than they once were, so it’s natural that brand icons should keep up to date. 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.

New instagram icon

The great leap forward

What was once an effort to make apps feel tangible, is now completely unnecessary. This was one reason behind Instagram’s redesign last year. Adam Spalter, the company’s head of design, set his team the task of drawing Instagram’s icon from memory, what became clear was that the skeletal structure of the famous icon was something that stuck in people’s heads, rendering everything else superfluous. Spalter came to the conclusion that Instagram has gone beyond being a simple photo sharing app and is now a diverse multimedia community.

We summarised last year the changes implemented in Instagram’s redesign: “What we’re left with is a bright, colourful app icon using a rainbow gradient as its most easily noticeable feature. This builds recognisability on a home screen without being ostentatious, thanks to the minimalist white camera design. The app icon itself contrasts with the app’s interface changes, which is now primarily monochrome rather than using orange and blue like the previous design. Ian explains the motivation was to bring user’s colourful content to the fore and enabling users to inject colour into the interface.”

It’s been said many times that consumers hate change, but when it comes to apps – you’re dealing with a different mindset. Yes, there’s always going to be some grumbling from certain quarters, but it quickly dies down. The digital sphere is one that constantly changes, an app could be something one day, then organically, through user demands and likes and dislikes, change into something completely different, and it’s the brand’s job to keep up with that, in terms of both functionality and stylistics.

Thanks to this, icon design is in a truly healthy state, with brands and consumers alike helping creativity stay where at should be – at the forefront.

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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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