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Make Your App Icon Stand Out

Candice Cheng by ,  Customer Success at AppTweak Start ASO

Icons play a very important role in the Click-Through Rate (CTR) of a mobile application. Just like in real life, first impressions matter a lot on the app stores. With over two million apps on the App Store and Google Play, it is crucial for apps to have an optimized icon and stand out from 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 to depict the app’s main functionalities. Have a look at these 9 expert tips to design an optimized app icon!

Follow these comprehensive guidelines to optimize your entire app product page on iOS and Android

1. Keep it Simple!

People seek 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.

While deciding on your app icon for Google Play, adhere to the following guidelines announced by Google lately:

  • Google prohibits including keywords that suggest store performance in the app icon.
  • It is also strongly recommended not to use graphical elements in the app icon that may mislead users about your app (e.g. don’t use text to encourage installs or promote deals).
  • Neither does Google support using emojis, emoticons, or repeated special characters in the app icon.

In the following example, the top free games on Google Play typically stand out with a 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 on Google Play in the US in 2020.

2. Use Vibrant Colors

When choosing the colors for your app, first make sure the colors align with your brand. Next, take the time to think about how to make your icon stand out in the search results. Bright colors help your app attract 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 vibrant colors. Live Search Results on the US Google Play for “photo editor” and “send money.”

We also recommend taking a look at your competitors’ apps and analyzing their color patterns. 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 Google Play, we found that four of the top-ranking news apps use red as their main color. As a result, none of these apps really stand out.

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

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

Discover which colors are used the most by top apps in different categories

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

3. Avoid Using Too Much Text

It is necessary for your app icon to be understood by itself. The age-old proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words” goes hand in hand with creating an icon for your app. Icons are usually better perceived when they do not contain any words. They tend to generate more clicks and are less confusing.

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

For example, casino games tend to use many 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 make 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” on the US Google Play.

If you are adding text, ensure that the font is readable and not crowding the icon, while being cautious about not using promotional copy that suggest store performance or endorse deals.

4. Use Logos only in Strong Branding

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

However, adding a logo is not recommended if that 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 displayed 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. On the other hand, utility apps have less brand recognition in the app stores. Therefore, a simple icon that explains what the app is about would be more effective than the brand name or logo.

It is also a good practice to avoid using ALL CAPS in your logo. Moreover, Google will not accept apps that use promotional content or misleading graphics in their logo.

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

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 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 the New Year. You want your users to know that you are constantly implementing new features and engaging with the audience. Customers appreciate when companies take the time and effort to publish relevant updates.

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

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

Keep tabs on major trends in game icons on the App Store and Google Play

7. Differentiate Your Icon From Competitors

Before creating your icon, you might want to check what your competitors are doing. You want to think from the perspective of a customer: Why your app over 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 following example, we see how Cody Cross stands out in 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 of apps that stand out from their competition by differentiating themselves. Live Search Results in the US Google Play for “crossword puzzle” and “healthy recipes.”

8. Learn From Competitors’ A/B Tests

You can use AppTweak to spy on your competitors’ 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 for their icon. Gardenscapes have changed their icon multiple times, testing different backgrounds, emotions, situations, and colors to see which icon drives the most traffic to their app.

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

9. Test Your Design and Learn

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

You can test different elements such as color, backgrounds, and different features or personalities.

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

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Candice Cheng

by ,  Customer Success at AppTweak

Candice is a Customer Success Manager at AppTweak. She’s inspired by the endless opportunities mobile marketing has created for people around the world. She is passionate about food, sustainability, and the environment!