When Not to Do It Yourself (DIY)…Iconography

Developing a custom mobile App for your business need not involve developing literally everything from scratch. This is particularly true of icons. Many get caught up in creative design that they unknowingly (or knowingly) bleed into designing their own icons. Not only is this time consuming but also potentially wasteful, particularly when those custom icons cause usability issues that have to then be scrapped.

All the major mobile platform vendors including Apple, Google, Microsoft and BlackBerry have put a tremendous amount of thought, research and testing into icons that resonate best for their platforms. They all provide icons as part of their software development kits (SDKs). People become accustomed to these icons and immediately know their meaning and use. Straying from these platform provided icon-sets exposes your App to usability issues (and poor uptake, ratings and feedback) as people learn the meaning of uncommon icons for common features.

As an example, don’t create your own search icon (as much fun and interesting as that may be). Use the one supplied by the platform vendors. Maybe you see a custom search icon as differentiating your App, but in reality all you’re doing is inflicting some degree of pain upon your target audience as they learn the meaning that icon and associate it with a very common function (search).

Icon Design Iconography Search

Memory recognition (over memory recall) is a key facet of usability. Associating a commonly used icon with a commonly used function helps with completing a task efficiently. This is supported by the Nielsen Norman Group (www.nngroup.com), the industry leading authority on usability, who state “showing users things they can recognize improves usability over needing to recall items from scratch because the extra context helps users retrieve information from memory”.

And when the platform icon-sets fall short of needs, look to the third party market before developing your own. It’s quite possible none of the platform-provided icons will not do justice to a distinguishing and unique feature for function. Before developing your own icon, we recommend looking to any number of third-party icon designers, many of whom provide their icons royalty free with a moderate up front, one time fee (if any at all). For us, we have been very happy with the Glyphish set of icons (http://www.glyphish.com). They have satisfied our needs more than 90% of the time whenever platform-provided icons have not.

Save time and money when custom developing mobile Apps for your business. Don’t feel compelled to design every aspect of the App from scratch or fall prey to “but it’s fun doing so” or “this will differentiate my App”. Differentiate your App in other ways. In what it provides and how. Leverage platform provided icons wherever possibly. Where those fall short, look to the third-party designed icons such as those from Glyphish. Then and only then, consider designing your own icon(s). Focus your time and energy on the distinguishing features and functions of your app, not the icons that represent those functions.

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