TiPb Asks: Do you judge an app by its icon?


A while back on iPad Live, we got to talking about how we often judge and app by its icon -- if the icon is bad, or even just not great, we don't buy it (ahem, Chad!). There are just so many apps in the store it becomes an easy way to eliminate some. If the developer doesn't care enough to make a fabulous icon -- the thing everyone sees when buying and launching their app -- what else don't they care about?

Are we being snobs? Superficial much? Missing out on great apps just because the developer was better at coding than they were design? Or do great icons sometimes hide crappy apps?

How important is the icon to you when deciding whether or not to spend your money on an app? Do you judge an app by its icon? Be truthful now!

[Image via Cocoia icon resource PSD]

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Senior Editor at iMore and a practicing therapist specializing in stress and anxiety. She speaks everywhere from conferences to corporations, co-host of Vector, Review, and Isometric podcasts, and should be followed on Twitter @Georgia_Dow.

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Reader comments

TiPb Asks: Do you judge an app by its icon?


I judge the hell out of an app by it's icon. On my iPhone, if an app is not up to Retina resolution it's gone, deleted!

I delete every app that is not retina display and I wouldnt dare by or download an app with a crappy icon. All the best iphone apps have great icons. Thank God Bank of America updated their app today I was going to switch banks!

I don't judge an app by it's icon, I judge an app by it's interface and GUI. You can change the app icons, on non-jailbroken devices, including the iPad 2, so this is of no concern to me. I have retinized all of my apps.

Thanks! Ok, you got me. :-)
Perhaps you can do a reshoot that's a bit quicker, and a whole lot less shaky; and they will give it another look. It wouldn't hurt to type up complete directions, too.

I am guilt as well, especially as far as retina is concerned. I 100% agree, if you're gonna make a quality app, make a quality icon for Christ sakes.

Definitely. In the same way I judge the kitchen of restaurant by how clean the washrooms are, I believe the time put into choosing a relevant icon to represent an app is indicative of the time and spent on the app itself. Storefronts have their best fruits and vegetables on display, The icon of an app is the digital equivalent. So just as I would question buying produce from a store displaying unappealing fruits and veggies, I would do the same of an app with a similar icon.

Not so much on the retina issue, more so the overall icon's design. Being a graphic designer who also happens to like Apple's aesthetically simple interface could be where the problem lies though.

At the very least must be retina display ready... It's almost been a year and not all app icons are there.

I have had this question myself, and downloaded and even purchased some apps with less than impressive icons. The icon is almost always a precursor to the experience within the app. Occasionally, an attractive icon IS hiding a less than stellar app...ahem, Color..? Excellence throughout is the only way to reach those 4 & 5 star ratings.

I guess I look at it like a handshake. Is a bad handshake enough to judge someone by? Of course not, but it is your first impression so it matters.

Absolutely - including my own. I'm almost never satisfied. If an apps icon looks like it was made in windows paint or has jagged edges or looks like a photo of the app screenshot centered in the middle I won't even look at the description

Guilty as well, I choose by the icon, then look at the screenshots. I've never seen a good app with a bad icon, but there are some bad apps with good icons.

My Radar is a great app. Had a pretty standard low-res icon before, and recently updated it to one that while sharp, is pretty ugly in my opinion. Still a good app though. Exception that proves the rule, I guess.

Agreed. Icon-screenshots-description-reviews. That's my buying process. If the icon doesn't catch my eye I keep it moving.

I saw a comment from someone above who only buys apps with good icons, then says he has seen plenty of bad apps with good icons, but no good apps with bad icons.
Surely its obvious why- by his own criteria he would never have downloaded the good app with the bad icon, so he doesn't know what he's missing :)
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I ultimately judge an app by the quality of its content rather than the appearance of its icon, but I do agree that there is something to be said for having a quality icon that befits a quality app (if it truly is a quality app!). I agree with the above posts, that a quality icon shows attention to detail on the developer's part, and that those subtle but important details should all add up to a quality user experience within that app.

So, you care somewhat then? If instead you mean to say that you don't care at all it's "Couldn't care less." Sorry to come off as a douche, but the mix-up of this phrase bugs the hell out of me.

Might not be the best indication of the quality and usefulness of an app but I am guilty of letting the icon appeal influence me.

Only for performance, but if the icon looks great. It makes me feel like the developers really care about the experience of the app.

A crap icon can be a bit off putting, but its the app itself that gets the 'live or die' judgement on my phone

Yes, I do judge based on icon. There are far to many apps with blue icons. My biggest turn off are icons not updated for retina display. Weatherbug Elite just made it back to my home screen this week after taking almost a year to update the icon. Other notable ones; Yahoo, Washington Post, and Huff Po all lack retina icons as well. I'm OCD about it.

In fact those 3 apps I mentioned are not updated for retina display inside the app either. Drives me nuts!

I do judge apps by icons I guess. However, j also take into account the fact that newbie programmers may not have skilled designers to call upon. Once a paid app is established, a good icon is a must.

"Missing out on great apps just because the developer was better at coding than they were design?"
These aren't command line utilities. Design is a critical part of development for GUI touch-based apps. It's not snobbery and icons are not just eye candy. Their appearance affects usability.

Icon is important to me, but even more so might even be the name of the app... It's those first impressions that separate the thousands of similar apps in the App Store. Have a good icon and good name, and I'll check out that app ahead of all others.

Yes! The name of the App and the Icon are absolutely important.
I mean the iPhone is only personalized through the icons on the phone. At least if you do not Jailbreak. So it does matter a lot if you have some nice icons or not.

Hate that premium apps like "Reckless Racing" set up names too big to display on the iPhone 4 at all. "Reckl...acing" WHY???
"Labyrinth 2 Lite" by Illusion Labs AB is another one ("Labyrin...Lite"). It says LITE right on the icon! I guess they do that to make the OCD folks more likely to buy the $5 full app.

I have to say, the icon is the first impression. As it is said, "You only get once chance to make a first impression!" If the icon is crappy, I am less likely to look at the description. I then look at the reviews and screen captures.

Yes. In my eyes, the preview is the first impression the user has of the game's graphics, so I am definitely more interested in games that have better icon graphics. Now that isn't to say that some games with crappy icons/graphics can't be fun, but generally speaking I tend to be more interested in games with better icon graphics.

I ABSOLUTELY judge an app by it's icon. It's the brown M&M's in the dressing room of my iPhone as far as I'm concerned...
If they can't spend the time (& money) to design an original and relevant icon... hold the show, line-check the entire setup and you are likely going to find some glaring red-flags.

yes but it's not the final judgment. If an icon catches my eye i'm more app to click on it. simple as that. but if it's an app form something i've no interest in or i do have interest but the app doesn't meet my expectations well i won't keep using it.

Yeah. GoodReader is suppose to be the best app for PDF's but I refuse to use it because the icon is horrible to me.

Absolutely. I've found that, in general, if the icon is bad or not updated for Retina Display, the app is usually lackluster. Seen very few apps with bad icons that work really well.

if its a really awesome app i may look past the icon but i am guilty, i cant stand poor icons. To me if the icon is awesome usually it indicates that the developer wantwed this app top-notch from top to bottom. Sometimes it shows me they can code an app well but with a sucky icon it might also mean the UI is going to suck too.

This is a yes/no question. I hate when site like this ask a yes/no question without a POLL. You can't expect a good response when everyone has to register to reply. Use a poll where people don't have to log in and your response will be greater - users can still leave comments if they want.

plus people can see RESULTS from your question instead of being left wondering or wasting time reading every response!

I don't Judge an app solely by it's icon, but I do judge an app by it's experience and the icon is one of those parts of the experience. A good looking icon means that the person has some sense of asthetics and taste, and that they actually care to give me a good experience in their app. If the app doesn't look good, it gives me a negative feeling to work with it and I'm more likely to trash it if it gives me problems.
I have an old app that is designed to list out the stores of a local mall and give a map. It's not designed for retina displays but it works fine. I downloaded another app recently that had a retina display resolution icon but it was hideously designed. I couldn't stand looking at it, and the app wasn't all that impressive, so I was glad to get rid of it. Maybe if the icon looked better I'd have kept for a few more days and tried it out more.

If browsing casually on the AppStore, then yes an icon prompts me to go to the app page and check out the screenshots. If the design is really good then I download the app

I too judge by the icon if I'm browsing through lesser known apps. But if it's a well know highly recommended app I don't care what the icon looks like as long as it functions well, GoodReader and Omnifocus are two good examples of that, both awful icons yet outstanding apps.

Speaking of the look of icons ... anyone else think that the icon for Adobe Photoshop Express looks like a roll of toilet paper?

The icon is one of the most important things for me in judging an app. It is what makes me view the actual app description (along with the rating).

Definitely yes. Very yes. Extremely yes. I will use a slightly less feature rich app if the app's aesthetics are more pleasing.

Sometimes. It's kind of like another indicator of how much effort the developer put into the app.

I do it all the time. If it has not been updates for retina, chances are I will just move along. However, most apps with a lot of polish/shine usually catch my eye. The smoother/more 'finish' an app has, the better Chavez it has of me buying it.

Icon doesn't even fall on my radar when looking at apps. I go to the screen shots and description to decide. This seems kind of stupid to me. Who cares what the icon looks like if the app is amazing?

Can't lie, I can't stand it when an icon looks like trash or isn't retina display ready. Thats just lazy developing! Not good looking, not downloading!

To be honest as long as it's not a black square I really don't care it's something to recognise the app by besides if you judge and app on it's bad icon maybe that's because the developer was worried by something that matters a bit more... OH YER THE ACTUAL FRICKING APP your flipping paying for the content and function game whatever your app does. Not for a peice of piece of art delete it if you don't like but maybe consider looking past the icon into the screenshots or description maybe but I must confess and irreverent and ugly icon does tarnish the app a bit but it would NEVER lead me to delete it! Your the lazy ones as the saying goes don't judge an app by it's icon!

I'm a hockey coach and found a great app to diagram plays called Coaches Ice Hockey Wipeboard.
Take a guess on what it says on the icon???? Coaches Ice Hockey Wipeboard.
Absolutely the worst icon on the planet, and I challenge anyone to find one that is worse. Any takers?

In the old days on palm devices, if you did not like the icon, you could replace it via a launcher app, and skins. Remember skins? Some were pretty good, or you could make your own with icon editor. You bought the app, you should be able to change the icon for your personal use.

I don't judge by icon alone, but it bugs me when a good app has a crappy icon (e.g. Photogene). I'll keep it, but it definitely gets shoved to my second or third screen.

I definitely judge an app by it's icon. For instance I have the app called "flashlight" and the damn icon is so pretty that it just begs to stay out of any stanky categorized folder.

Funny you should mention the Flashlight app. I just deleted it yesterday and it was SO HARD! The icon is so pretty, and the interface is beautiful, but I prefer the iLlumination app for immediate bright-light convenience.

Yes. it is actually not that shallow. The fact that the designer took the time to make a quality icon tells you something.

There are apps that have great icons but poor UI and functionality. There ate apps that have poor icons but great functionality for free (like Logitech mouse app). It depends what your personal taste is...

Icons are like book covers. Whether consciously or unconsciously, icons can attract or repel. When a large array of choices are presented, say in the App Store environment, it is normal to gravitate towards icons that attract. That means the "perfect" app may not even be considered because the icon doesn't invite investigation.

To me, a pretty icon is a plus, but not the deciding factor. The app's purpose matters the most (e.g. Air Video could have a one-colour box as an icon, I would still have snatched it up for ten times more than it cost), followed by the description and the screenshots. The higher the price, the more intense my reviews-reading becomes, too. The icon is the cherry on the digital cake, appreciated, but I'll certainly eat a delicious pie even with a slightly shriveled fruit topping it.

I never judge an app by it's icon but it does get my attention first. I'm JBen so I'm just going to design a better icon for my theme anyway.

Not a total deal-breaker, but it still annoys me to see a bad icon (or, heaven forbid, a NON retina icon) in this day and age.
Another aspect of this I've been running into is the "branded icon"-- I'm a fan of WORDS WITH FRIENDS, and liked their simple icon. Ever since Zynga felt the need to stamp their brand on every icon of every app they now own, I've been really turned off.

~~ No, but i do watch the comments/reports, and almost will never/won't buy if they are bad....
Georga, why don't U have a contest for the most apps on a iphone/pad. would need a short deadline, so people won't load up just for the contest.... and would require a photo of the ststs page of the unit to confirm.....

ofcourse! if you can't bother to even create an icon that follows the clean and design focused aesthetic of the iPhone what does that say about the app itself?

I don't judge an app by its icon, I judge it firt by its user rating then on my own experience with it. That said, if it has an ugly icon I usually tuck it away in a folder, and I hate anything that says "free" or "lite" across the logo.