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App icons don't have to suck


The days of skeuomorphic icons are gone and in their place are clean, flat icons designs that, in theory, offer an attractive and modern feel. But when the desire for something simple comes at the cost of relevance, icons take a turn for the worse.

Instead of overly elaborate and detailed icons that produced a busy and cluttered feel, the App Store is now overrun with icons that mean absolutely nothing and only serve to harm the appeal of the apps and confuse potential customers.

To help illustrate this, I grabbed a handful of these too-vague-for-their-own-good icons and tossed them into our TUAW team chatroom. I asked what, if anything, each icon tells the user about the app itself -- or, if nothing else, simply what the graphic resembles.

To be clear: This is in no way a commentary on the quality of the apps themselves (and indeed some of these are extremely popular and well-liked) but simply a call for developers to put some more thought into the most public face of their own products.

What is it?

  • A charging utility
  • An app about Alton Brown's bow tie
  • A soundboard with nothing but Gomer Pyle saying "Shazam!"
What it actually is: Prompts, an app to help writers find inspiration.

What is it?
  • A fingerpainting app, but with only one color choice
  • A Smurf penis
  • A blue tampon applicator
What it actually is: Vesper, a note-taking and archiving app.

What is it?
  • A how-to-make popsicles app (seriously, the fact that it's not this is a crime)
  • Wild mushroom locator and index
  • A ghost with diarrhea
What it actually is: Fancy, a crowd-sourced shopping app with a social twist. And no, it doesn't tell you how to make popsicles.

What is it?
  • A digital pregnancy test
  • A calculator... obviously
  • "The Green Cross" for horrible people who don't like the Red Cross
What it actually is: Gneo, a productivity app.

What is it?
  • A bacteria guide app
  • A camera app that gives everyone in the photo green chickenpox
  • A Yoshi ovulation tracking app
What it actually is: thredUP, a clothing marketplace for women, kids and teens.

What is it?
  • An app that tells you when it's near sunset if you're on a cruise ship
  • An orange juice review aggregator
  • An app that lists all the words that rhyme with orange
What it actually is: Level Money, a budgeting app.

See what I mean?

I get it; Creating a nice icon without an established brand logo to draw from isn't easy, but I promise you it can be done. Here are a few fantastic examples of app icons that are not only clean and attractive, but also offer a hint as to what the app actually does.

What it is: Chefs Feed, a restaurant guide curated by actual chefs.

What it is: Elixr, a social network and rating service for drink lovers.

What it is: The Converted, an easy-to-use unit conversion tool.

See the difference? Now please, put some more effort into your app's most important symbol before the App Store is filled with icons that are nothing more than simple gradients. Oh god, it's happening already.

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