Human Interface Guidelines: Icons

Apple from Infinite Loop has just counted theri first billion download of iPhone applications.. good deal and my wishes for a more gold fortune!

Here I’d like to present some extract of the Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines on creating custom icon and images (here’s the .pdf document, freely viewable online too).

The user interfaces of iPhone applications are characterized by beautiful images and lush color. As an application designer, you want to fit into this environment by providing an aesthetically pleasing user interface. Although iPhone OS provides a wide range of elegant and attractive user interface elements, there are two custom elements every application needs: an application icon and a launch image. In addition, some applications need to provide a settings icon to display in the Settings application. This chapter describes how to design these things.

Well, no doubt about it: the strenght of iPhone it’s in its beautyness: lovely icons, nice *boards and everything. So let’s have a quick look at Application Icons:

An application icon is an icon users put on their Home screens and tap to start an application. This is a place where branding and strong visual design should come together into an compact, instantly recognizable, attractive package.

Users can display as many application icons on their Home screens as they want, so you should design an icon that is:

  • Attractive, so users want to keep it on their Home screens
  • Distinctive, so users can easily find it among all other icons

When a user decides to display your icon on the Home screen, iPhone OS automatically adds some visual effects so that it coordinates with the built-in icons. Specifically, iPhone OS adds:

  • Rounded corners
  • Drop shadow
  • Reflective shine

For example, Figure 11-1 shows a simple icon as it might be provided by an application.

Figure 11-1 A simple application icon before it is displayed on a Home screen

Figure 11-2 shows the same icon as it is displayed on a Home screen by iPhone OS.

Figure 11-2 A simple application icon displayed on a Home screen

To ensure that your icon can take advantage of these visual enhancements, provide an image in PNG format that:

  • Measures 57 x 57 pixels, with 90 degree corners (if the image measures other than this size, iPhone OS scales it)
  • Does not have any shine or gloss

Name your icon file Icon.png and place it at the top level of your application bundle. To learn more about the contents of the application bundle, see iPhone Application Programming Guide.

Note: If you choose, you can prevent iPhone OS from adding the shine to your icon. To do this, you need to add the UIPrerenderedIcon key to your application’s Info.plist file (read iPhone Application Programming Guide to learn about this file).

Your icon should still measure 57 x 57 pixels, regardless of whether you take advantage of the added shine.

As with other user interface elements in iPhone OS, icons that use bold shapes and lines and pleasing color combinations work best. It’s advisable to spend some time simplifying your icon design so it clearly conveys the essence of your application. Also, it’s a good idea to investigate how your choice of image and color might be interpreted by people from different cultures.

There are many pre-built icon packs all around, all with shades included but I suggest you not to shade your icons until you have tried out on your phone, just to be sure the phone shades itself doesn’t affect the icon.
Let’s have an example:


Easy peasy.

Another simple suggestion: never put too many details into your icon design or you will lose them all while resizing, with the nasty feel that your icon is kind of chaotic.

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