When making a game app icon for the first time, many developers are working on a budget and decide to make the icon themselves.
Of course, beginners make rookie mistakes.
These mistakes are very common, but also easily avoided.
I’ve put together this very short list of tips designed to help you create an attractive, eye-catching icon right from the start.
At the end, I will show how these rules apply to one of our own apps, Math Ninja.
We’re focusing on games here – other apps are a whole different beast. With that said, on to the tips!
1. Don’t Use Text
The number one most common rookie mistake is slapping the name of the game all over the icon.
The reason people make this error is due to a fear that the customers won’t know what the game is unless they see the name in the icon. This is completely incorrect.
Remember, the name of the game is below the icon on the iPhone or iPad. The user sees it right there, so having it in the icon is redundant.
Text on an icon just adds clutter. It might look okay at a large size, but when small it looks busy and is hard to read anyway. So remove that text!
2. Use Your Main Character
People associate the game with the main character, so use it! If there are several main characters, choose only one.
Remember, it’s a small icon and the shapes on it need to be instantly recognizable.
To that end, if your character is not small and compact, think about using just the character’s face rather than the whole character.
3. Keep It Simple
Don’t add extra things to the icon. You don’t have to encapsulate everything the game does – you just have to make it attractive and inviting.
If your main character is a ninja, don’t add his weapons. If it’s a math game, don’t add math symbols.
Caveat: if you have several games with this main character, you may want to differentiate between them. In this case, you can explore adding a single symbol to the icon (like a “2″ for a sequel). But choose carefully, and DO NOT add more than one symbol.
4. Use Contrasting Shades and Colors
So you have your main character and you’ve restrained yourself from adding text or unnecessary items. Now you just need to choose your background.
Go for contrast so that your character stands out. If your character is a light color, choose a dark background. If your character is dark, choose a light background.
If it’s a medium color, try out a dark background and a light background and see which provides the best contrast.
One way to make an image pop is to choose a background color that is on the other side of the color wheel from your character color. It doesn’t have to be the opposite color, but it should be on the other half of the wheel. If you want to know why this works, read more here.
Using these tips, if your character is light yellow, you might choose a dark blue background. If your character is red, try yellow or a light blue. If it is black, you have your pick of colors as long as it is a lighter shade.
Notice in the above examples how poor contrast muddles the edges of your character. On a small icon, it will look like an amorphous blob. Even though the top left example has pretty colors, the character doesn’t stand out.
Different colors can add interest, but the most important thing is the contrast between the character and the icon background.
5. Remove the Default Gloss
By default, Xcode adds a glossy shine to your icon.
The gloss adds clutter, which as you will recall is our enemy. Take it off.
Let’s Apply These Tips
When we went to create the icon for Math Ninja, one of our first apps and our very first game, we tried a lot of things. We basically broke every rule I listed above and then some. Here are some examples of what NOT to do:
We kept looking at other app icons to see what features made them stand out, which is how we developed this list. Here’s the icon we settled on:
Icon creation is an art form all its own. Great graphic designers can add complexity and subtle touches that will raise the icon from basic to fantastic. But if you could afford to pay for that kind of quality, you probably wouldn’t be reading this list!
Use these tips and be confident that you can make an attractive and memorable icon. If you avoid rookie mistakes by following these tips, your icon will be better than 90% of the icons in the app store!