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9 Tips to Make Your App Icon Stand Out

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9 Tips to Make Your App Icon Stand Out

Icons play an extremely important role in the Click Through Rate (CTR) of a mobile application. Just like in real life, the first impression matters a lot in the App Store. With over 2 million apps in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, it’s crucial for apps to have an optimized icon to stand out from its competitors. In this article, we give you 9 tips to make your app icon stand out.

You want to create an icon that immediately grabs the user’s attention and compels them to download the app. Your main goal is to not only design an app icon that is unique but also depicts the main functionalities. Have a look at these 9 expert tips to design an icon that converts!

1. Keep it Simple!

People are seeking for the easiest way to get what they want. Therefore, icons need to be clear and simple to understand. You do not want to create an icon showing multiple features or many details that may not be perceived at first sight. If the icon is too complicated, it may be confusing and fail to communicate to users what your app is about.

For example, today’s top free games in the google play store stand out with their simple design, focusing on one object only.

Top 5 free games in the Google Play Store in the US.

Examples of icons with a simple design: Top 5 free games in the Google Play Store in the US.

2. Use vibrant colors

When choosing the colors for your app, first, make sure the colors align with your brand. But then take the time to think about how you can make your icon stand out in the search results. Bright colors help your app pop and attracts the user’s attention. Don’t use too many colors either, one or two main colors should be enough. Simple icons drive much more conversion than complex ones.

In the example below, Photo Editor and PicsArt’s bright colors help the app stand out from their competitors. Also Venmo and Cash App immediately catch user’s attention.

Live Search Results on the US Google Play Store for ‘photo editor’ and ‘send money’.

Examples of apps that stand out by using a vibrant color. Live Search Results on the US Google Play Store for ‘photo editor’ and ‘send money’.

Also, take a look at your competitors’ apps and analyze their color pattern. If you skip this step, you may run into the problem of creating an app icon just like everyone else’s. You want to get creative and choose a color scheme and design that sets your app apart.

For example, when searching for the keyword ‘news’ on the Google Play Store, we found 4 out of the top ranking news apps use red as their main color. As a result, none of the apps really stands out.

Live Search Results on the US Google Play Store for ‘news’.

Live Search Results on the US Google Play Store for ‘news’. Most apps use the color red and don’t manage to stand out.

Use AppTweak’s color palette tool to see which colors are used the most in your category

Another small tip is to adopt both light and dark appearances in your apps. Light and dark interfaces use very different color palettes. Colors that work well in a light appearance may be hard to see in a dark appearance.

3. Avoid using too much text

It’s necessary for your app icon to be understood only by itself. The old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” goes hand in hand in creating an icon for your app. Icons are usually better perceived when they don’t contain any words. They tend to generate more clicks and are less confusing.

Keep in mind, apps are displayed relatively small on mobile devices. Using a lot of text causes a lot of clutter and the user will not understand what the app is about. Be aware that using text may cause localization problems if you decide to launch your app in a new country.

Casino games for example tend to use a lot of different color combinations and add text to their icon. Whereas casinos are designed to engage all your senses, this flashy design looks rather cluttered in the app store and does not necessarily succeed in making the app stand out in the search results.

Live Search results for ‘casino games’ in the US Google Play Store.

Examples of a few icons that can be difficult to read on the App Store because of the text. Live Search results for ‘casino games’ in the US Google Play Store.

4. Use logos only when strong branding

Developers sometimes wonder if using their brand logo might be a good idea for their app icon. This can create a stronger brand loyalty and image. Ideally, this is more effective when your brand is already quite popular and has a stronger visual identity. For example, Nike, Snapchat, Vine, Spotify or Tinder.

However, it is not recommended if your brand logo is not commonly known. You want your app to be quickly understood by your audience. If your logo is not recognized, it won’t retain any attention and users will skip your app.

For example, the apps that show when searching for ‘food’ are famous brands with a well known name or logo. The use of the logo in their icon helps users quickly recognize the app in the search results. Utility apps on the other hand have less brand recognition in the app stores. Therefore a simple icon that explains what the app is about is more effective than the brand name or logo.

Live Search Results for ‘food’ and ‘scanner app’ in the US Google Play Store.

Examples apps in the food category that use their logo in their icon vs utility apps. Live Search Results for ‘food’ and ‘scanner app’ in the US Google Play Store.

5. Design for Dark Mode

On iOS 13, Apple announced one of its most anticipated features: Dark Mode. Dark Mode uses a dark system-wide appearance for all screens, controls, menus, and more. Keep this in mind when designing your icon. You want your icon to stand out and not blend in with the white or black background. Keeping color preferences in mind from the very beginning can help minimize many complications down the road.

Spotify’s app icon on Light and Dark Mode on the Apple App Store.

Comparing Spotify’s app icon on Light and Dark Mode on the Apple App Store.

6. Update your icon for seasonality

It is very crucial to update your icon from time to time. Especially for special holidays, such as Halloween, Christmas, and New Years. You want your users to know that you are implementing new features and are engaging with the audience. Users appreciate when companies take the time and effort to publish relevant updates.

Icon updates don’t necessarily need to be totally redesigned. Let’s take for example Trivia Crack. The icon of this app changes quite frequently according to seasons or special occasions. We can notice that the icon remains similar and familiar but stands out with a seasonal touch.

Trivia Crack icon

Trivia Crack updates its icon frequently to remain relevant and engage its users.

7. Differentiate your icon from competitors

Before creating your icon, you might want to check what your competitors are doing. You want to think in the perspective of a user: why your app over your competitors’? By monitoring your competitors, you can find inspiration on how to differentiate or improve your icon. Your goal is to stand out from competitors by adding a certain value to your icon that makes it unique.

In the example below we see how Cody Cross stands out in the search results by using a different color palette than other crossword puzzle games. When searching for ‘healthy recipes’ we see icons with pictograms that dominate the search results. However, the apps that stand out are those that are different and showcase a real image of healthy ingredients.

Live Search Results in the US Google Play Store for ‘crossword puzzle’ and ‘healthy recipes’

Example apps that stand out from their competition by differentiating themselves. Live Search Results in the US Google Play Store for ‘crossword puzzle’ and ‘healthy recipes’

8. Learn from competitor’s A/B tests

You can use AppTweak to spy on your competitor’s A/B tests and learn what works for them. With our Timeline feature we automatically identify when an app is running an A/B test. You can then dig deeper and understand which versions they are testing against.

To further illustrate, we did a quick study to see how Gardenscapes have utilized A/B testing on their icon. Gardenscapes have changed their icon multiple times testing different backgrounds, emotions, situations, and colors to see which icon best drives the most traffic to their app.

Gardenscapes' icon
Gardenscapes uses A/B testing on their icon to increase conversion rates.

Learn more about AppTweak’s Timeline feature to see other apps’ metadata updates

9. Test your design and learn

When designing your icon, be careful to not let personal taste or bias get in the way of your conversion rate. Always A/B test your icon to understand which icon succeeds better in encouraging users to download your app.

You can test for different elements such as color, backgrounds but also different features or personalities.

Designing an icon can be difficult but we hope that these tips help alleviate any of the stress! Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and be creative with creating an app icon that truly resonates with your brand. We can’t wait to see the icons you create!

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