Monochrome Overload: App Icons Lack Creativity

‘I blue myself.’ — Tobias Fünke

The most awkward part of my Starbucks routine isn’t that the barista sometimes misspells my name, or gives me regular ice when I have requested light ice¹. It is after I have declared at the register that I’ll pay with the Starbucks app only to realize that I have been fidgeting with my phone for almost half a minute trying to locate the damn thing, and have opened and hastily closed what I thought was the Starbucks app but in reality was Google Hangouts, Spotify or another app in Hulk colors. The barista never fails to say, “Please, take your time.” But you know full well that her words belie her true feelings towards you in that moment.

At first, I didn’t give much thought to why this happened so often. But it is not hard to realize the problem once you place some of these apps right next to each other.

So Much Green

The app layout in the screenshots is of course for illustrative purposes. Normally, you’d have these apps spread across multiple screens. But once I grouped my apps by color, I realized that there just isn’t enough variety in the color palette across the forty or so apps that I have installed on my phone. I cannot, even if I try to, place similar-looking apps far enough from each other not to be thrown off in the moment.

For whatever reason, it appears the app publishers are making quite uninspiring color choices for the face of their apps. It is an almost shocking realization given all the work that goes into developing an app; it can mean many millions of dollars in business. And yet, they choose the most basic colors for something that’s supposed to make their app truly stand out, to be immediately recognizable.

Sunset on the horizon

It is high time the app developers and designers started investing in better graphics to help their apps stand out. You cannot afford to have your app be confused with four other apps on the first glance. It causes user inertia, confusion, frustration, and in the end, a less than ideal experience.

And inspiration may not be that far away. There are companies that do this well. For example, I have never had to really look for Snapchat. It is always right there. I can spot it easily because its unique icon and color scheme is highly recognizable. I think Lyft does this well too. And Airbnb’s new look has it moving in the right direction.


¹Tangent: My favorite Starbucks hack is asking for ‘light-ice’ in an iced drink. It’s just about as cold as regular iced drinks (unless you wait for all the ice to melt), and you end up with almost 30% more of the non-ice fluids that constitute your drink. Chuck the costly lawsuits!

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