How To Make A Great First Impression With An Amazing App Icon

Wondering how to make a great app icon? Here are a few tips to help you get more downloads.

One of the first things that people will see when they discover your app is your icon. If you are designing an icon for your new app, or redesigning your current icon, here are a few tips that can help you get more downloads by having an icon that really stands out.

Before you get started, you should take a look at the iOS Human Interface Guidelines to learn the basics and get some tips from Apple about creating your icon. After you familiarize yourself with the documentation, it is time to get to work.

What Should Your Icon Look Like?

There are so many elements from your app that you can draw from to create an icon. The hard part is narrowing them down and focusing on the one thing that will instantly entice people to download your app.

There are a couple of ways that you can approach the concept of your icon. You can use the branded method, or go for the descriptive look.

If you go down the branded path, then it is pretty straightforward. Just use your logo, add some shading, texture and/or a background image to make it interesting, and you are done. Here are two examples of Nike apps that do a good job using the branded approach, pairing the Swoosh with different background elements.

Nike app icon example

The descriptive path is a little more difficult. You should think about the biggest benefit of your app and make that focal point of your design, in the simplest way possible.

How can you combine symbols and realistic elements to let people know what your app does? Here are a couple of examples of icons that do a good job of being simple and descriptive.

Demonstrating what an app is about

If you have a game, then choose the main character and make that the focal point of the icon. Games like Modern War, Plants vs Zombies and Hay Day are good examples.

Give your app personality with faces

Adding multiple characters or too much detail to an icon makes it look muddled and confusing when viewing it at smaller sizes. Here are a couple of examples of icons that could be simplified. They look great at this size, but they are hard to make out when browsing the App Store.

Reduce visual clutter in icon

Since your icon will be seen at different sizes in different areas of iOS and on different devices, be sure that it looks just as good at the largest dimensions as it does at the smallest. You might also be tempted to use the auto gloss capability that Apple provides, but that is something that you should avoid. Maintain control of your design or you might end up with a case of gloss overdose.

Finally, do not be afraid to create several radically different versions of your icon. Even a design that seems ridiculous at first, could end up being a large part of the final icon. Explore every possibility that you can come up with. Even when you have a design that you feel is right, put it aside for a day or two and see if you feel the same way when you come back to it. You may want to change it again. If not, then you know you have a winner.

A Visual Overview Of The Icons Of The Most Popular Apps

If you look through the most popular apps on the App Store, you will find that not all of them follow these guidelines. So obviously, your icon is not the largest determining factor in how many downloads you get, but you do want to give yourself every advantage possible. Take a minute to see which icons stand out at a glance, and what makes them so visually appealing. It helps to step back from your computer screen a few feet and see how they look from a distance.

Top apps by downloads

Hiring A Designer

Hiring a professional graphic designer who is experienced in created app icons is usually your best bet for creating the very best icon possible. They can help you refine the themes and visual elements of your app and distill it down into something that easily recognizable. You can find these designers through sites like Elance, oDesk or Dribbble.

Just like designing your own screenshots, you may choose to design your app icon yourself. If you would like to take a shot at it, there are some great tutorials that can teach you how to do in Photoshop. 99Designs has a quick tutorial on how to make an impressive looking icon in 20 simple steps.

Other Resources

  • This easy to use App Icon Template will give you an great starting point if you want to design your icon yourself. There is a tutorial video on the site to help you get started.

  • Need some ideas? These icon galleries can provide some inspiration: Design Your Way, iOS Icon Gallery and Hongkiat.

  • Here is another tutorial on how to create a photorealistic app icon in Photoshop.

  • When you are done with your final design, easily create different sized versions of your icon with IconKit or MakeAppIcon. They are not quite as high quality as resizing your icon from a vector file, but they sure make it faster.


Creating your new app icon is an exciting process and we hope that these tips will help you create an icon that visually exciting, communicates the message that you want to convey and most of all, increases your downloads.

Have you just created a new icon that you are particularly proud of? Let's see it! Leave a comment below and let us know about it.

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Hugh Kimura

Written by: Hugh Kimura, Head of Content

Date: July 2013