Tips for Designing Mobile App Icons

January 27th, 2016

Tips for Designing Mobile App Icons
Anh Nguyen

by Anh Nguyen

COO & Co-Founder at Gummicube, Inc

Mobile app usage continues to see unprecedented growth, with top app categories such as messaging, shopping, productivity and gaming contributing to the overall increased usage of mobile apps. The amount of time spent by individuals on digital media is exploding as well. This growth is predominantly being driven by mobile apps. According to comScore's 2015 Mobile App Report, total digital media usage over the past two years has grown by 49%, with mobile app usage up 90%. Companies of all kinds are entering the mobile app space as their customers have made it clear mobile and mobile apps are the preferred medium. One of the main challenges facing mobile app publishers and marketers is the design considerations given the smaller form factor. These design challenges include both in-app UI/UX and maybe the most important graphical element of the app itself - the app icon. The app icon is the first image a potential user sees in search results or when browsing the app stores, and is the graphic that resides on their device once installed.

For conversion, for retention and for branding - it is important to get app icon design right!

App Icon Design

Icons play a vital role in the click through rate (CTR), of a mobile app as they give the first impression of the application in the app store. With the massive amount of mobile applications, digital content and information present in most of our lives, visual elements are more effective at catching users’ attention than written content. With visual content, the message is literally delivered faster. That’s why search app store search results, app store listings and the app's space on the device home screen are all predominantly made of visual elements. Generally, there are three types of app store discovery use cases:

  • looking for an app in a specific category,
  • searching for a particular app,
  • typing specific keywords as they look for an app but do not have any specific app in mind

When browsing or searching the app stores, the first thing users see is the app icon.

App Icon Design


Reflect on the Core Value of the Application When it comes to designing a great mobile app icon, start by defining the core value or message you wish to communicate. Even the color(s) used will play a role in how your app is perceived and received, and who it is for. Since the icon and app listing should all focus on the core value of your app, app icon designs should align with the other graphical elements of the app (especially any screenshots used in the app store listing).

Keep it Simple

App icons should be extremely clear and simple to understand. Icons are small when viewed on a device - even smaller than many think when in the design phase. Smaller than a dime on most devices. Avoid designing icons with lots of detail or nuance that make it hard for the user to see and understand. Potential users are looking for the easiest way to get what they want. Creativity is great - but conversion is how you measure a great app icon design.

Do Not Include Text

These are not hard, fast rules - but rather suggestions based on the top performing apps over time. An app icon is not too far from a brand logo. And like most logos, app icons are usually better received when there is a lack of or a minimal use of text. On the device home screen, in the search results and in the app listing, the app icon is always accompanied by the app name - your icon does not need text. Don't forget that all of this can be tested with a focus group, or by using multivariate testing in Google Play. Check out our store specific guides here:

Apple app icon design tips

Icon design for Google Play

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