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Don't Forget The Icon

We can pump thousands of dollars in man-hours and development time for a promotional application for a mobile platform. We may even try to make it a good app, with a solid user-interface, really cool functionality and a problem-solving focus. So why do so many apps cheap out on the icon?

This question arose recently as I contemplated the HootSuite icon for iPhone. Maybe it's just me, but that icon is so darn cute, is so beautifully created in composition and pops so brilliantly with an obviously upgraded resolution for the iPhone 4, that it is impossible to ignore on the screen. I have to press it. I sometimes don't even want to check Twitter and I still find myself pressing that icon.

Which led to the realization that many app developers are leaving a huge opportunity on the table.

Think about it: The app button is no different than a subject line of an email, a graphic element in a print ad or a sentence in a Johnson Box (that little block of text next to the address block on a direct mail letter). We spend hours crafting just the right picture or sentence to entice the consumer to delve a little deeper and discover what's inside. So an app should be doing the same.

Yet most apps seem to think of their icon as an afterthought. I mean sure, it's not much space and you can't message like crazy, but this is still the first thing the consumer sees. This is what they will repeatedly see on the screen. So why not make it irresistible to press?

Branded apps are particularly guilty of this. I'm not saying the Target app or the WalMart app or even the Chipotle app icons on the iPhone are ugly. They aren't. What I am saying is that
as a billboard to entice me into clicking, they are severely lacking. They don't achieve anything except a brand impression, and a poor one at that. They certainly don't compel me to find out what lies behind that picture.

We are simple animals at heart, we humans. We are attracted to things like symmetry, color, resolution and composition. It doesn't really take that much to catch our eye. But we know the minimum when we see it. And all that money you've spent on the guts of your app will be wasted if your icon says nothing more than the minimum it promises.

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