I thought it might be interesting to write a process post outlining the steps that go into designing an app icon. This was a logo I created for Booth Scout, an excellent new app for anyone who loves art festivals and craft shows (please check it out!). I wanted to illuminate the design process, back and forth, and revisions that went into creating the final design.
The first step in any good design is a conversation with the client
I find in-person meetings much more useful than the phone. You can look at materials together and pick up on subtlety that might otherwise be lost. Importantly, be a good listener: it will save you work later. Some essential questions to discuss at this preliminary meeting are:
- How would you describe your company/service?
- Do you currently have a logo–what do you like/not like about it?
- Is there any specific imagery you’d like to use?
- Will this be used elsewhere, or only for the icon?
- Do you have any color preferences or existing branding?
- Are there any examples of icons you can give that you particularly like? Any that you don’t like? What do you like/not like about them?
- What feeling would you like the icon to convey?
- Did you want any additional design services in combination with the icon (logo including business name, business cards, letterhead, etc).
And of course, establish a budget and sign a contract.
After this preliminary conversation, it’s time to start sketching.
At this stage everything is extremely rough. This isn’t about being a great artist, it’s about brainstorming in visual-form. Get down as many ideas as possible, without spending too much time on any one. Below is just one of about twenty pages in my sketchbook for this icon. The purpose is to get ideas flowing.
After this burst of raw sketching, take a few of the best ideas and draw cleaner versions of them on a template (If you’re a member of lynda.com, I like the one included here, which you can see used below, but you could easily create your own). These help give a sense of how the icon will look with the rounded corners.
Narrow in On a Few Designs to Develop
From this sheet of 20, I chose four designs to create final versions of to show to the client. I scanned the sheet into Illustrator, put it on its own layer and decreased the opacity, then began by tracing the design I’d created using the pen tool. I tend to experiment a lot while in Illustrator, tweaking color, texture, effects and shapes until I’m satisfied. I use Illustrator (as opposed to Photoshop) because the shape will be a vector, and can then stretch seamlessly and cleanly to the various sizes needed for the iOS icon. I won’t go into details here of how to create a vector image in Illustrator (a topic for a whole other post).
With an icon, it’s important to see what it will look like at various sizes and with the different device backgrounds. Using Photoshop, I placed each icon into Michael Flarups App Icon Template, available here. I then sent jpegs of these four options to the client.
Solicit Specific Feedback and Work on Revisions
At this stage, I again met with the client, who told me she liked the second option best. The handmade feel was right, as was the heart in the booth, and the stitching implied craft. The shape of the booth, though, and the black background weren’t quite what she’d had in mind. I created two additional versions of the booth with heart design, taking these additional specifications into consideration.
Finally we reached a final version of the design which was just right. It’s instantly recognizable as a craft-fair booth, emphasizes finding your heart, the stitching adding a handmade feel, and has a color-scheme nodding to Boy Scouts. Working together, we’d achieved the vision.
I hope you can see from this post the back and forth nature of the work. This isn’t the designer creating something, sending it to the client and done. It’s a process of revision and feedback, helping to realize a vision.
Please let me know if you’ve found this helpful, or any other steps (or resources) you might add. Thank you for reading!
List of useful resources:
App Icon Template – Includes instructions on how to export the icon at various iOS sizes.