Let’s face it, the more attractive your app icon is, the more downloads your app will get. Both the iOS and Android app stores are visually competitive and app creators need to know what makes an awesome icon that grabs the target audience. While it seem like a small detail, there are many ways to approach app design, so we’re here to give you an inspirational crash course with examples of some of the best app icon designs. Before you know it you’ll know exactly what style of icon design will make for an irresistible download.

Flat and modern app icons

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Pod icon by Carlos Afonso for Justin Krause
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Waplog Match icon by Daylite Designs ©
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Screenmailer icon by :-Dee-Ex™ for JonasNielsen
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Presst icon by :-Dee-Ex™ for appcompany
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Exversion icon by Shadowness for marianne c
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Audible icon by Audible
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Class Pass icon by Carly Shatzkin

While flat design isn’t the hot trend it used to be, it’s still a versatile tool in the designer toolkit and has a well-deserved place in many applications. Take for example the way flat design can be used to create a no-frills appearance that pairs well with utilitarian applications such as the screen recording app Screenmailer or the calendar app Pod. Using a flat icon in these cases lets the user know that the application is simple and practical: Those seeking a simple solution won’t hesitate to click on a simple icon. If your app has a simple and practical use, such as data collection, audio book reading or media feed processing, a flat design might be the right choice for you!

Skeuomorphic app icons

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Beyond The Bequest LLC icon by Pixtograp for rachelle4e

Skeuomorphism is a trend that has come and gone over the years. While some might say it feels fake, others find comfort and familiarity in its material emulation. Depending on your audience, it’s a style well worth considering.

Take for example Kar Page, an app for car enthusiasts. The app icon looks as though it is made out of carbon-fiber (a strong and lightweight material used in expensive modern cars). This use of skeuomorphism instantly grabs the attention of people who know of, or have used carbon fiber, such as car enthusiasts (aka this app’s target audience). Beyond that, it also gives the user a sense of exclusivity—having that non-common knowledge makes them feel like part of an exclusive club, which makes the app all the more enticing.

Another great example of the in-club tactic is the FrostyApps shopping app icon. Everyone who loves shopping knows what it feels like to carry a shopping bag full of brand new clothing or merchandise. Even the sight of a shopping bag will spark joy in an avid shopper, and that’s exactly what skeuomorphism does for this app icon. It speaks to users on a visceral level and gets them excited about shopping.

If your app speaks to people’s’ passions, interests or exclusive knowledges, it might be good to think about trying skeuomorphism as a tool for teasing out those feelings within the customer.

Illustrated icons

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Quizucation icon by DORARPOL™ for michael.pierce
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Remember the Milk icon by Ben Ho

Illustration has always paired well with youthful, fun and comic style projects. In the app world this includes puzzles, word games and kid’s education. The fictional nature of illustrations sends the user a message that the app might take them into a fantasy world that, simply put, is super fun!

Beyond fun and games, illustration can also be used to tone down more utilitarian apps that are trying to target an audience which is less comfortable with technology. Remember the Milk is a perfect example. It is a utilitarian check-list based app that has been given an extremely friendly and fun branding through the use of a cute, illustrated cow.

If your app is a game, geared towards children, or if you just want your utility to come across as friendly, think about using an illustrated icon!

3D (non-skeuomorphic) app icons

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10K Bulbs icon by Pixtograp for vincent.lee
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Fligoo icon by sleepingpasa for ishereshevsky
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iDestroy icon by Joekirei for Starkapps

Not all 3D design is skeuomorphic. In fact there is an entire world of 3D design which is often overlooked. It doesn’t aim to emulate materials, but rather uses 3D design as an art medium, and beyond that as a way to inform users about the nature of the app. The 10K Bulbs icon is a wonderful design piece with glowing, colorful balls that are part of the match-3 game. Not only is it an attractive design but it also lets the user know that the game may contain similar 3D elements.

3D design can also be helpful in translating abstract concepts. In the case of the Fligoo news app, spinning colors revolve around a 3D track. For many users this might prompt ideas about news-related concepts, such as circulation, revolution as well as different types of news circulating together. Ultimately it gives the user insight into what style news app it might be.

Whether it’s a 3D game or a nuanced app that you are putting on the market, 3D design might be able to help give users insight into what they are downloading.

Flat and professional icons

DSC or Diagnostic and Symptom Calculator icon by Daylite Designs ©
Fitness Hawk icon by :-Dee-Ex™ for Gavin12357

Lastly we have a less common form of flat design. The designs featured above are less modern. They have a sensibility that can feel academic, professional or serious. This style is appropriate for apps that educate contractors, provide tools for medical professionals or deal with communications industries. Users of these apps aren’t looking to be visually blown-away, but rather looking for apps which facilitate their life-course. If your app speaks to professional communities, this honest and direct form of flat design might be the right choice for your next app.

Feeling ‘appy?

Now that you have a grasp on icon design styles, you should feel ready to decide upon a design that will hold up to the iOS or Android app store competition and rake in the downloads.

Wanna get a bunch of ideas for your app icon design? Launch a design contest today and let our global community of designers inspire you.