It might seem as if it was released yesterday, but the iPhone has been around for quite a while now, along with one of its key features: apps. If you’re writing or thinking about writing a new app for the iPhone, whether free or commercial, something you need to think about pretty early on is your icon. It’s pretty much the first thing your users will see of your app, whether that’s in the store, thinking about buying it, or using in their day to day routine.
Whether you are designing the icon yourself or having it designed for you, here are a few simple things to bear in mind:
There are now tens of thousands of iPhone apps out there, crowding the store and your potential users’ phones, so yours has to stand out. There are a bunch of ways to do this – a strong, simple metaphor, bright colours or just an elegant design. Not stand out in a bad way though! If your icon looks too inconsistent with the rest of the display, it could jar the senses and look unprofessional. Equally, the anticipation created by a great icon should be met with an equally great application. Make sure that your icon and app match up in terms of branding and expectation.
One specific point to note: Apple gives developers the option to add their standard gloss to app icons. We recommend against this, instead preferring to add our own gloss, customised for the specific icon, if one is required at all. Using the standard gloss can ruin an otherwise great icon or make it sink in to the crowd.
Usability is most often associated with interface design, but it’s also important when thinking about your icon. Does it say what your application does in an obvious way? Or will users have to hunt around or get misdirected every time they try to find your app on their phone? Humans rely on the unconscious mind for almost all our day to day activities, and introducing a strange or poorly associated metaphor into your icon may force the user to switch on their conscious mind to find it, jarring them every time. Even regular habit and learning can’t beat strong association, whether it is negative or positive.
This is a simple one! Make sure your icon is going to work at every size in which it needs to be presented! This means both in terms of technical requirements and design. Small details or 3D aspects may look great at a large size, but fade into a miserable fuzz at smaller resolutions. Think very carefully about how much detail you need to add and why. Ideally, an icon should project a strong association without much detail at all. The same goes for text in icons: it should generally be avoided at all costs, except, perhaps, in the case of well understood acronyms, such as TXT or SMS.