A Billion-Dollar Market in 120x120 Pixels

Humans form first impressions within seven seconds of meeting each other, and the effects of an introductory handshake can last for one to six months. That’s pretty significant if you’re an entrepreneur networking, or a salesperson promoting your product or service. Within the app store, the importance of first impressions is just as clear. In this marketplace, which generates 70 percent of app downloads, an app’s icon is a digital handshake with a consumer and can make or break a consumer’s decision to download, create an account, or even just engage with a brand.


A beautifully designed app icon reflects well on a brand, and is indicative of a quality in-app experience, while a poorly designed app icon will dissuade a user from the app before they’ve actually experienced it. In a digital world chock-full of different products and services, design, even in its smallest proportions, is essential to a brand thriving.

App icons represent a crossover between design and product ownership, a key partnership in the overcrowded digital space, where the two must work together to capture a potential consumer’s attention and create an experience that will impact business goals. As of 2019, there are 1.8 million apps in the Apple app store and 2.1 million in the Android app store. That’s a lot of apps to compete with for companies looking to expand established businesses on mobile, but there’s also a lot of money to be found in the industry. In 2018, people spent over $100 billion dollars across all app stores, which was a 75 percent increase from 2016. Over $39 billion dollars have been spent on or within apps so far in 2019, a 15 percent increase from this time last year.

Disruptive Design

Organizations must embrace design as a means of ensuring their brand will thrive in an age of disruption or risk becoming irrelevant. Icon design is highly important to the clickability and downloadability of an app, which means design strategy needs to be well planned in advance.  Icons are also the first point of engagement that an app or product has with many consumers. The overall quality and design of the app is representative of the experience a consumer will have after downloading the product, which is why it’s so essential that it’s done well. This study by Tampere University indicates that there is a clear correlation between the quality of the app icon and how successful they are in generating downloads.

What does this mean to approaching app icon design in a meaningful way? Think about using the same strategies you use when designing products: aim to appeal to consumers’ emotions, whether excitement or sadness, to really grab consumers’ attention. Unsurprisingly, icon designs that affect consumers' emotions increase app downloads. Bright color schemes, indicative of excitement, can greatly increase app popularity. Weirdly, the study found that app icons indicative of sadness, which was used to describe apps “dominated by a desaturated or dark color palette,” were really popular among consumer downloads as well, a non-traditional design pathway to explore. This is where the partnership of design and product ownership becomes so crucial. Leveraging market research and user testing to determine the best way to connect consumers to your brand’s message through design is key to standing out among the noise.

app stand out

Communicating Your Brand’s Quality Through Design

Conversions are generated by app icons described as beautiful, high-quality, and unique, all qualities a brand should aim for as they compete for mindshare in the marketplace. App icons encompassing these qualities generated consumer confidence and trust in a brand. After all, if an app icon can’t be executed well, how is the consumer supposed to have confidence in an app or in your brand? We know the old adage: a picture is worth a thousand words. This applies to app icon design as well. Let your design speak for your brand. Focus on a simple, bold icon that clearly communicates your app’s, and company’s, purpose.

App icon design needs to be considered a significant phase in your mobile app development or design process. Just like when making a first impression in real life, it’s important to put your best foot forward and show consumers the promise of a lasting, positive experience with your app. It seems crazy that such a small number of pixels can have such an effect on an app’s success, but these icons are the figurehead for your product. If they aren’t intriguing, than the app won’t excite potential consumers, and therefore, won’t support the objectives a brand is trying to achieve. In-depth brainstorming and collaboration is required to successfully design and implement an app icon that accurately, positively represents a product and is intriguing to target consumers.

So, how do you want people to remember your company’s digital first impression?