9 Common Slip-ups That Designers Tend to Make During App Icon Design

Mobile users are a happy lot. After all, they get to pick and choose from countless apps, which are available on a number of app stores on the market. What does this tell you? Quite obviously, this means there is a tough competition between various apps, with each of the apps vying for potential users’ attention.

The solution lies in a unique app which brings many features and functionalities to the table. However, even if you do design and develop one of the finest apps on the market, a poor icon is all that it takes to mar your efforts. This is because the app’s icon serves as its face value and more often than not, it guarantees successful selling.

The logic behind this is that potential customers tend to browse for apps relevant to their needs and an attention-grabbing icon will definitely pique up their interest levels, leading them to take a call to action. You never know, who will take a liking to the app purely based on the icon design and go for downloading it. This results in increasing the sales of the app and therefore, makes it a success.

Focusing on icon design is therefore more of a prerequisite in the app development lifecycle. This write-up discusses some of the most common slip-ups that designers tend to make during mobile app icon design.

1. Icons Are Not Unique

Designing icons that appear to be a copy of another, already existing icon is a mistake that designers knowingly or unknowingly commit. A lot of them reel under the pressure of submitting icon designs within a short time frame. Facing an acute time crunch, they succumb to the pressure and settle for run-of-the-mill designs.

They take the shortcut to success by taking cues from bestselling apps and designing icons of similar patterns. For instance, if there is a popular app in the Entertainment category, designers would want to cash-in on its popularity and an easy way to do this is to create app icon similar to the popular app.

The result? A bulk of apps with similar icons – including the color schemes. This ultimately creates a confusion for the target audience, who will be unable to differentiate between two icons, which have the same color combination, especially on a wearable.

Step out of your comfort zone and create app icons that makes people sit up and take notice be it your competitors or target audience. You can’t afford to have a mediocre approach to create unique app icons; a unique icon gives customers something to remember the app by.

2. Icons of Same Group Show No Similarity

For apps that belong to the same group, the icons should also bear some similarity. Take the case of Adobe’s suite of apps such as InDesign, Photoshop, Lightroom Mobile, Illustrator and Premiere, which have uniformity in their icon design. One look at the screen and the end-user will immediately know that the icon belongs to Adobe’s suite of apps.

Think about Gestalt’s law of similarity, according to which the human mind can perceive and recognize similar objects or patterns. Implement this to create uniformity in groups of icons by designing icons with similar characteristics, which include but are not limited to – color, size, typeface etc. This way, your target audience will easily associate similar icons of apps that are perhaps developed by the same company.

Let’s assume that one of your previous apps had a successful stint on the market, then there are chances that the success of that particular app will rub off on your new app, if the icons of both the apps show similarity in design. Hence, take the route to design similar icons for the same group or family of apps so that your target audience finds a connection between them.

3. Giving Pixels The Pink Slip

Focusing on the tiniest detail is the trait of great designers, who really know their job. From the color to the pixels, everything needs to be perfect when it comes to app icon design. Pixels in particular are immensely important in icon design and ignoring the same can create a bad impression on the users. Not paying attention to details may result in blurry, pixelated images and it is obvious that it will not good on any make and model of a mobile device.

Think in terms of the advanced display technology of smartphones, wearables and other mobile devices and you will realize that even the smallest mistake can cost you the success of your app.

Here is a checklist of things which you can consider and later, implement while designing an icon without ignoring the pixels:

  • Do not create a ‘universal’ icon, which can be sized down to suit various app store rules because it won’t.
  • All icons are not created same. An icon will appear completely different on a smartphone, tablet and wearable. Make sure that you follow stringent guidelines to know how to create befitting icons for different mobile platforms.
  • Experiment your way to the perfect icon. You might want to downsize the raster image, opt for making some retouches, changing the color if required and adopt each and every strategy that makes the icon scalable.
4. Putting In Too Many Details

Stuffing too many details in the tiny icon image can prove to be futile. The icon of an app offers you limited space to showcase your ‘design skills’ and too many details can botch it up badly. It appears noisy and unprofessional. This is the reason why you need to make sure that the design of the icon is simple and conveys a message to the target audience upfront. The best option is to go minimalistic like the top designers and opt for only essential elements for the icon design.

For instance, if it is a games app, you can include the character of the game or use minimalistic images that give potential users a hint of what the game is all about. If you include everything at once in the icon including text, it is going to create mess and look unappealing to potential customers. This takes us to the next point.

5. Ignoring The Text On An Icon

Text is a crucial aspect of icon design; it should be placed in an icon if and only if it is absolutely necessary.

It is quite tempting to include the app’s name or other relevant text inside the icon. Many designers do include text in the icon design hoping that this will help potential customers get an instant idea about the app, generating more number of downloads. This is one of the major mistakes on their part as two of the major app stores – Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store both have the name of the app displayed beside the icon. So, including text – particularly the name of the app will only lead to duplicate data, information overload and eventually lead to nothing. Additionally, having text in the icon makes it difficult to localize an app.

This of course, does not mean that you have to skip text entirely in the icon design. You can include it but only if it is relevant to your app. Take the case of Netflix, which has a simple icon design with just the name of the app in the icon. But then, it has a distinct typeset and color combination, which make it unique and helps the target audience relate to the brand.

So, if you think that text will work for your icon, then you must go for it.

6. Color Combinations That Won’t Work

Bad choice of colors or selection of the wrong color combination for an app’s icon design is another mistake. Colors play an important role in influencing consumer mindsets and as such, you need to make sure that you do not fall prey to bad choice of colors. Researching about your target audience’s demographics and habits/preferences will be of help in this direction.

It is essential that you select the right color palette, which not only looks aesthetically pleasing, but also conforms to your brand’s image. For this purpose, refer to various materials online, which explain all that you need to know about color psychology in branding and take your pick of the right color combination for your app’s icon.

You can also use some amazing tools, which are helpful in selecting color schemes. These tools include but are not limited to – Color, Adobe Color CC, Colllor, COLOURlovers, Paletton etc. You can conduct a search to find out about many other online and offline resources, which will help you out in this direction.

7. Forgetting All About The Target Audience

One of the main traits of expert designers is that they take into consideration their target audience before icon design. This is important because obviously, an app targeted at a different segment of audience say for instance kids, will have a certain look and feel including the icon design such as the bright color schemes. If you compare it to an app targeted at enterprises, it will have a completely different look and feel –minimalist with neutral color schemes or pastel shades.

You also need to take the culture of various places where your app is available. This is because some symbols may be alright to use in the icon for some countries but not for others, where they can be considered offensive or hurt the sentiments of communities.

Do a thorough research about your target audience and use the research to design an icon that appeals to them at the first glance itself. You can go through a number of apps, which have gained international acclaim and take a look at their icon designs to get a better idea.

8. Ditching Aesthetics In Design

Your app’s icon needs to be stylish and aesthetic in order to attract a number of potential customers on the app stores. Ditching design aesthetics is therefore, a strict no. So, how do you make sure that your app is aesthetically appealing to your target audience? Here are some useful points that will help you.

  • Keep up with the latest trends on the market such as Flat Design (of iOS) and Material Design (of Android OS), which can be used to create apps for smartphones, tablets and most importantly, wearables.
  • Do test your icon’s design before finalizing it for the app. For instance, Apple Watch icons are set against a black background. So, design your app for the wearable in such a way that it is in contrast with the background. Test your icons on the device and not the simulator to make sure that they are perfect.
  • Reduce complexity. You can create a simple icon and yet it can look every bit aesthetic. Minimalism is in trend anyway, so you will only benefit from this step.

However, don’t just invest all your energy on designing a pretty icon, but also incorporate elements that makes the icon’s purpose instantly recognizable to the target users. This can be a shape or image or the initial of the app’s name (Pinterest, Vine, Facebook, Evernote), which says a lot about the app without compromising on the aesthetic part.

9. Not Following Guidelines

Different mobile platforms have different set of rules for icon design. Following these rules or guidelines help designers create icons, which will work best for the apps in these platforms. You can take the example of Apple’s Human Interface guidelines or Android’s guidelines, which elaborate on how you need to create icons that work on iOS and Android devices.

Stick to these guidelines as and when you design and this will go a long way in helping you create perfect icons, consistently.


Creating an icon for a mobile app is no easy task. Mistakes tend to happen, even by the leading designers in the industry. But yes, learning from these mistakes is helpful for budding designers who want to make it big. Does the write-up remind you of any other design mistake in mobile app icon design? Share your thoughts with us.

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