App Design & Optimization
December 1, 2021

How to Design a Mobile App Icon: 5 Best Practices to Keep in Mind

By 
Geoff Parent
Updated 
December 1, 2021
App Design & Optimization
December 1, 2021

How to Design a Mobile App Icon: 5 Best Practices to Keep in Mind

By 
Geoff Parent
Updated 
December 1, 2021
How to Design a Mobile App Icon: 5 Best Practices to Keep in Mind

GoNative provides an end-to-end solution that enables you to deploy web-based applications as native iOS and Android apps. Learn more

App Design & Optimization
  —  
December 1, 2021
Updated on 
December 1, 2021

How to Design a Mobile App Icon: 5 Best Practices to Keep in Mind

By 
Geoff Parent
Updated 
December 1, 2021
How to Design a Mobile App Icon: 5 Best Practices to Keep in Mind
Updated on 
December 1, 2021
App Design & Optimization
  —  
December 1, 2021

How to Design a Mobile App Icon: 5 Best Practices to Keep in Mind

By 
Geoff Parent
Updated 
November 24, 2021

GoNative provides an end-to-end solution that enables you to deploy web-based applications as native iOS and Android apps. Learn more

It's important to design a mobile app icon that will stand out and represent your brand the right way. Here are five best practices to get you started.

Designing a Mobile App Icon Shouldn't Be An Afterthought

Developing a mobile app that generates positive end user experiences comes down to a rigorous attention to detail. So while designing or choosing the icon for your mobile app might seem like a small, simple step, it’s important to consider that:

  • An app icon is often the first point of interaction a user will have with an app
  • Within app stores an app icon that stands out, and that reflects your brand and the app’s purpose, will influence app rankings and visibility
  • Once an app is downloaded the app icon will be seen by users every day on their device and is critical for driving re-engagement and retention
  • There are different design specifications between Apple and Android app icons. Whereas Apple’s icons are square, Android Icons are circular in shape. Ensuring your final icon image design is optimized for both platforms is essential.

So instead of treating your app icon like an afterthought, take the time to consider a design that will stand out and represent your brand the right way. Here are five best practices for how to design a mobile app icon for both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

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Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

Follow Apple and Google’s App Icon Design Specifications

Apple and Google both have unique guidelines and specifications for how to design a mobile app icon. They fall into one of two categories:

  • Hard rules for the attributes of visual assets (format, shape, color space, size, etc.)
  • Best practices for designing an effective app icon for the respective app store

It’s important to pay close attention to these store-specific guidelines for mobile app icons at each stage of the design process. As a general rule, you should never attempt to crop the image yourself to create the app icon.

Instead, use a regular square image and let the devices look after the cropping. That said, there are still specific guidelines you need to follow for these square image files to take full advantage of the different app icon shapes for iOS and Android.

Depending on the geometry of your icon logo, some designs will work well using the same image for both Apple’s square icons and Android’s round format. However, some logos will require different versions to accommodate these different formats. Here are some examples of how brands will adapt their app icon designs to these respective configurations:

          The top row shows Android's rounded format, while the bottom row shows Apple's square icons.

Design Specifications for App Icons on the Apple App Store

Attribute Specification
iPhone Size 180 × 180px @3x OR 120 × 120px @2x
iPad Pro Size 167 × 167px @2x
iPad/iPad Mini Size 152 × 152px @2x
App Store Size 1024 × 1024px @1x
Format PNG
Color Space Display P3 (wide-gamut color), sRGB (color), or Gray Gamma 2.2 (grayscale)
Layers Flattened (No Transparency)
Resolution Varies
Shape Full Square (Apple adds rounded corner masking)


Apple’s app icon best practices cover a broad set of tips to consider:

  • Embrace simplicity
  • Provide a single focus point
  • Design a recognizable icon
  • Keep the background simple and avoid transparency
  • Use words only when they’re essential or part of a logo
  • Don’t include photos, screenshots, or interface elements

Click Here for More Information on Apple’s Design Specifications

Design Specifications for App Icons on the Google Play Store

Key Differences
Attribute Specification
Final Size 512 × 512px
Format 32-bit PNG
Color Space sRGB
Max File Size 1024 KB
Shape Full Square (Google Play adds round masking)
Shadow None (Google Play adds drop shadow)


Google’s list of app icon guidelines focuses primarily on how to use the asset space in the most effective way:

Size, Shape and Spacing

  • Use the entire available asset space (512 × 512px) as a background for minimalist logos, icons and/or shapes
  • Keylines within the asset space are set at 384 × 384px to help position logos, shapes or icons on the asset background
  • Using these keylines works better than trying to fill all the available asset space with a logo or icon
  • For illustrated icons, fill the entire asset space instead of scaling down an illustration to fit onto the keylines
  • Do not apply rounded corners to app icon artwork. A  rounded mask is automatically applied to the app icon once it is uploaded

Shadows

  • Do not add a drop shadow to the app icon; a drop shadow is added once the icon asset has been uploaded
  • That said, you can add shadows and lighting to elements within the border of the icon

Badges

  • Avoid including promotional or branding badges on the artwork, as they do not scale down properly with the icon

Click Here For More Information on Google’s Design Specifications

Simplicity and Minimalism Can Go a Long Way in App Icon Design

Trying to determine how many details to include in your mobile app icon? Consider that Apple’s first tip for designing an effective icon is to embrace simplicity. A lot of details may look great when you’re designing your asset at larger scales, but it’s important to think about how they will look at a smaller scale on the app store page.

Considering how fast users will scroll through potential app choices, you want a design that is striking, yet simple to understand and easily recognizable at smaller sizes. Try to create a singular point of focus rather than filling the asset space with a number of elements. Your icon should aim to capture attention, convey purpose and represent your brand without demanding too much analysis from the user.

It’s worth noting that simple and minimalistic does not mean boring and plain. The challenge of great app icon design is to create something simple that is still intriguing and appealing to the eye. That is why it is so important to carefully consider your use of colour, contrast, spacing and form throughout the entire design process.

how to design a better app icon
TikTok's color palette stands out at smaller scales, while the bold, yet simple musical note icon clearly conveys the app's focus on music and creative expression.

Your App Icon Design Should Be Cohesive With Your App and Branding

The mobile app icon design you choose must align with the look and feel of your mobile app as well as your unique brand guidelines. This is essential for creating an immersive experience for the user. From the moment they view your app icon and open your app to the moment they close it, they should feel a sense of cohesion between all the various pages and touch points.

Creating an icon that is unique to your app and your branding will also help you create a design that feels original and authentic. The last thing you want is for a user to associate your app icon with a competitor’s app. Instead, you want an icon that will help to build recognition for your brand, your app and the services it provides.

               Calm's app icon conveys both the look and feel of the brand and the broader app.

Try to Communicate Your App’s Function and Purpose

While it’s true that your design should be unique, it should also be concise and communicate the purpose of your app. You don’t want to end up with a design that is so abstract that the user is unable to understand or decipher what it is. It’s important to remember that part of simplicity and minimalism is designing something that is elegant yet easy to understand.

Think hard about your brand, organization or business — the products or services you offer, your unique value proposition, the utility of your app and the overall benefits it offers— and use those thoughts as inspiration for a design that gets at the core of what you are offering to the end user.

Even if you had never heard of WhatsApp, the app icon perfectly captures its purpose and functionality.

Unsure Which App Icon Design is More Effective? Test Different Iterations

Your mobile app icon is a key component of your broader App Store Optimization (ASO) strategy. As a result, it’s important to feature an icon that will give your app the best chance of success.

If you’re curious about the effect a new design direction will have on app store engagement, testing and experimentation could be helpful. While they can be time-intensive processes, proper A/B and/or iterative testing can help you gain meaningful insights regarding the effectiveness of your app icon.

Both Apple and Google provide developers with services to help them conduct experiments with their app store assets. While Apple recently announced Product Page Optimization for the Apple App Store, Google has offered Store Listing Experiments for some time now. What makes these services so useful is that developers can also run experiments on other components of their store listings, including their product pages, screenshots, listing text and videos. That said, Google recommends testing your app icon first, considering the outsized influence it can have on app store engagement.

According to Google, there must be clear intent and strategy behind every test:

  1. Have a Clear Hypothesis/Objective: Outline what you are going to test about the design and why you are going to do it
  2. Test One Element at a Time: Don’t hesitate to get granular when testing the effectiveness of different designs
  3. Test For at Least 7 Days With the Largest Possible Audience: You want to ensure you are capturing both weekday and weekend traffic and capturing results from as much of your audience as possible
  4. Don’t Just Run One Test: The more tests you run with different designs and artwork, the more confident you will be in your findings
Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

Deliver an Immersive, Visually Stunning Mobile Experience With GoNative

Learning how to design an effective mobile app icon is one part of a broader initiative for your brand — creating the best possible user experience for users on mobile devices. And with GoNative, creating an native app to deliver these types of mobile experiences has never been easier.

GoNative’s highly intuitive online app builder makes it easy to convert your existing website or web-based application into an immersive, visually stunning native mobile app that will deliver a rich mobile experience for end users on both iOS and Android devices. With our app configuration services, we will help you select the app icon, in-app images, fonts, and colors you need to design an aesthetically cohesive app that aligns with your brand’s identity.

We take the confusion out of the app icon design process. With GoNative you can upload a single large square  image file (we recommend at least 1024x1024px) to use as the app icon for both your iOS and Android apps. Our service will automatically create all the required compatible icon sizes for both iOS and Android.  If you have created separate image files for iOS and Android, you can provide those as well.

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Geoff Parent
Geoff Parent
Content Writer
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