We understand that developing an app is a huge undertaking. The blood, sweat and tears that go into this project shouldn’t be limited to the app itself. Being smart about how you present your app will play a key role in how it does in the app store of choice. This includes giving your app a good “face”; or app icon. Before you call up your friend’s sister’s nephew because he has Photoshop installed on his computer, here are some tips to consider when designing a good app icon.

Take the app icon design seriously
With millions of apps in the App Store and Google Play Store, standing out is of utmost importance ‒ especially if there are similar apps in your category. Think of it this way – on a crowded bookshelf, the cover of a book that catches the eye and follows good design principles will be looked at first. Consumers judge books by their covers, even though their mothers told them not to. A strong brand throughout is key; don’t make app icon design the last priority during the development process.

Research, research, research!
Unique app ideas are worth a million bucks. Sadly, someone has probably already come up with yours.Find out who your competitors are and what their icons look like. Are they colorful, do they have a unique look or a fun avatar? You may assume a Scrabble tile is a great icon idea for your new word game; maybe you should do a quick search first. Don’t copy your competitors or Apple might assume your original app is a ripped off copy of Words With Friends – or your competitor might slap you with a copyright infringement lawsuit.

How many different variations of Scrabble tiles can there be?

Keep it Simple, Silly
Some of the best icons in the store have a simple, unique look and stand out during a quick scan of search results. Pretend your icon is a billboard on the side of a highway with a 70 MPH speed limit.If there is too much going on in the app icon, the app will most likely be skipped because someone shopping on the App Store won’t have time to process everything. An icon is also not the place to throw in every Photoshop trick and filter you know. (See note later.)

Consider color
Everyone has a favorite color, but that doesn’t mean it should be in your app icon. How do you finda color scheme that will be attractive to your target audience? Kissmetrics has a great infographic on colors and purchasing power, detailing the psychology behind selecting certain primary and secondary colors for branding. There are also numerous websites and books that go into great detail about color theory and psychology. Once you’ve selected a base color for your branding, check out Colors on the Web, a free tool that allows users to generate eye-pleasing RGB schemes based off of one color.

A quick search for “kids” apps yields bright, fun colors.

Avoid the “deadly sins”
There a number of unspoken rules to keep in mind when designing a good app icon. Things like vertical stacked type, fancy – and illegible – scripted fonts, bad color choices, Googled (read: copyrighted) clip art, using Comic Sans in general, and unnecessary drop shadows should be avoided at all costs. Items unique to the app realm, such as shine filters, should also be evaluated with scrutiny. Just because another app uses it in their icon doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Many filters and “tricks” can make your app seem unprofessional and untidy.

From Building iPhone Apps – these are just bad.

Bonus tip – don’t forget about screen shots
You’ve spent all sorts of effort, time and money on an exquisite app icon design. Why upload boring screen shots? The screen shots give you another opportunity to showcase your app and brand. Design Boost did a great post on creating screen shots that sell. Adding callout text, graphics or other enhancements to your screen shots can further entice a shopper into buying your app.

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