Psychological Tips to Designing App Icons that Grab User’s Attention

designing app icons

It’s just a tiny little square with some graphics inside, but an app icon can mean the difference between a wildly downloaded app and a mostly overlooked one. An icon needs to be more than just beautiful. It needs to look so compelling that the users want to click on it right away. It needs to be designed so that it gives users an idea of what to expect from the app and also, it needs to follow platform specific design guidelines. Over and above, an icon needs to appeal to the user, and that is a tall order. Different users have different tastes and feel attracted to different designs. Even the same user feels attracted to different things at different times. To truly design the perfect icon for your app, you need a deep understanding of your target audience and what gets them going. Let’s dive into each of these aspects in detail, and find out all about designing stunning app icons that make users download your app.

1. Know Your Target Audience

There are no rules when it comes to design. If it works for your audience, it’s right. That is why you need to know your audience like the back of your hand. What makes them tick, what they love and what will get them to tap on your icon, is all the science you need to know. But that, for certain, is easier said than done. How do you know what your audience wants? There’s only one answer to that – research.

First understand who your target audience is. Start by analyzing the demographics your app will appeal to. If it’s a shopping app, you’re looking at young professionals, mostly millennials. They probably have good jobs and sufficient money to spend, but are probably busy and always in a hurry. They need an app that will let them buy the best products in the least amount of time possible. Hence, your app icon needs to showcase style, youth and quickness.

If yours is a gaming app, your users are probably even younger, students and Gen Z’ers who are constantly seeking thrill and excitement. They’ve probably tried out all the other popular gaming apps and are looking for a new and refreshing game to play. Whatever you do, don’t let your icon remind them of another popular game they’ve already beat to death. Your icon needs to promise something different, something they’ve never seen before and something really exciting.

If the game is for toddlers and kids though, it’s probably parents who are browsing the app store, and they are probably looking for something that’s new, but still consistent with what their child is learning at the moment. They want games with educational opportunities, games that are mentally stimulating but not addictive. They want games with consistency, calmness and gentility. So that’s what your icon should reflect – soothing colors and a calm vibe.

These are the most basic examples, and based on the attributes of your app, your target audience will change and so will the icons you need. But as you can see, what your audience wants can be very specific and once you nail that down, you’ve won half the battle.

2. Know What You Want To Show

So now that you’ve nailed what your audience wants, it’s time to know what you want to show them. An icon must build expectations and promise a brilliant experience. But it is essential to also live up to that promise. You can’t just promise a 3D gaming experience, without actually giving the audience that. That is why you need to create a realistic icon that gives your users an idea of what to expect. It is crucial to set the right expectations. If the icon has a picture of snow-surfing skiers, the audience will want some serious snow action once they download the app.

So pick the most attractive features of your app and create an icon that showcases the emotions your users will feel while using your app, but remember not to go overboard.

3. Understand Trends and Design Guidelines

We will begin this point with a caveat first – don’t be blinded by trends and tied-down by guidelines. Designing is a creative profession and you have the complete freedom to create an icon you feel is perfect for you. As long as you adhere to the icon size and other basic tenets, you are free to design what you like.

Having said that, there is indeed some merit to following trends. If you happen to have your mind made up about what your icon should be, and you strongly believe that it is the right one for your app, by all means, go with that one, even if it doesn’t adhere to trends. But when in doubt, staying current helps. At a time when everyone in your genre is following material design, going skeuomorphic might make your app icon look dated and less inviting. Staying within the boundaries of current trends, at least to some extent, helps you look new and makes the audience trust you a little more.

Also, in keeping with point number 2, remember to keep your icon design consistent with the app design. If your app’s UI has material design, stick to material and if the app sports flat design, you know what to do.

While we are at it, it is worth mentioning that Google’s documentation on material design is exhaustive and extremely helpful, so do reach out to it for help with designing your material icons. Apple too does a great job of helping developers with icon design in its Human Interface Guidelines.

4. Work on Your Branding

In addition to being attractive, you icon must also do a great job of branding. Your icon must stand out and mean something. Just a beautifully designed first letter of your app name with a beautiful screenshot may not be enough. Take the example of Evernote for instance. The icon with a mighty elephant has little to do with taking notes. But that’s what sets it apart from other note apps. It plays to the emotions of users, giving off the feeling of being mighty and powerful. For those who understand, it also signifies the sentiment of ‘elephants never forget’.

Make your icons recognizable and memorable. Make them a signature, one that the users instantly identify your brand with, and you will watch the downloads happen.


Icons must be unique, attractive and memorable. We know developing an app is hard work, but don’t let your icon become an afterthought, or something you put together in a hurry. Take the time it takes, but make the icon a really good one, to really stand out of the app store crowd and compel users to tap on your icon and download your app.

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Hiral Atha is the Founder and CEO of MoveoApps. She started coding even before she entered high school and today, she helps clients develop impactful mobile apps for their business. With over a decade of experience in mobile, she leads a team of young and experienced developers. When not leading an ambitious app development project, you’ll find her playing board games with her 6 years old son and piquing his curiosity in computer programming.

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