Category Archives: App Icons

Branded vs. descriptive – how a simple classification will help you create the perfect icon for your app

By | App Branding, App Icons | No Comments

Companies love to visually associate products with their brands in the hope of increasing awareness and trust among consumers. In a traditional “real-life” economy, it’s hard to imagine someone selling their product with no logo on it. But in the app store, where functionality matters most, not all rules of traditional marketing apply and the customer decision-making process looks slightly different.

For the sake of this blog post we’ve distinguished three types of app icons – branded, descriptive and combined. We’ll try to explain why each of these approaches works for some apps and doesn’t for others.

Branded approach

First of all, your app icon may differ from your company logo, as you are limited by the small square-shape area available for your design. There are several options for publishers that want to adopt the branded approach and include the following: using their logo (if it fits), using a slightly changed version of their logo, featuring only the first letter(s) of their brand name and even including their whole brand name (even though using words in icons is generally discouraged).

The branded approach generally works best for publishers who fit into one of the following groups:

- Huge brands with instantly recognisable logos:

Capture- Publishers who want to link their app with an established and recognized product or service, for example a website. The visual link between the two services is a good way to keep your customers loyal to your brand. This applies to hotel booking apps for instance.

Capture2- Brands which are positioned on reliability and trust, e.g. banks, news publishers. Customers will be looking for the brand’s distinct logo which reassures them that the app is safe and published by the company they trust.

Capture3- If a brand, even the unrecognisable ones, has an amazing logo it will make the app stand out in its category. If you feel your logo will do the job of catching the users’ attention then you might want to consider using it for your icon. You can use an internet survey tool to ask users which of your designs appeals to them more.

Descriptive approach

A descriptive icon uses a visual element that serves as a metaphor and instantly tells a potential user what the app is for. It usually shows the main feature or functionality of the app. So you’ll see a lot of envelopes when searching for a mail app and a lot of check marks when looking for a to-do list app.

The descriptive approach works for:

- All apps unless they have what it takes to use the branded approach.

- Apps that focus on functionality, for example Productivity apps (calendar, mail, task apps and the like).


Combining the two approaches

In the combined approach you mix a descriptive and brand element within the icon. It also applies to logos that already convey some kind of meaning and are used as the app icon (examples of Expedia and National Rail Enquiries are shown below)

The combined approach is a good choice for:

- An established brand (see above)

- A series of apps. This ensures continuity (Nike and EA Sports examples below).


 The trick here is to keep it simple. If the icon is too cluttered, it may become illegible and be disregarded by the user who is skimming the charts or search results.


Keep this simple classification in mind at the very beginning of the design process and you will surely get the perfect solution for your app. Your icon design is one of the most important elements of ASO and will have a direct impact on your download and retention rates.

Can you think of any examples of apps that capitalise on their brand in an appealing way? Or maybe you use other icon categorisations for ASO purposes? Post your thoughts in the comments below!