An old blog post I wrote last year about a decades old humor article on icon design is actually remarkably relevant to today’s App Store market.
Years ago, Apple published a developer magazine. I don’t even remember the name of it, but it covered various topics on programming on the Mac or Apple II, but it would also occasionally have humor articles. One in particular stuck with me.
The author said that when you are getting ready to start developing your application, the single most important thing to do is you need to develop a killer icon. The desktop icon could make or break your application and it really should be your first priority.
As humorous a suggestion as it was, I think what I found most amusing was that there was a slight bit of truth to it… or at least it didn’t come from that ridiculous a place in the mind of the developer.
As much as this was a big joke for Mac applications, I think it’s a pretty accurate view of the importance of App Store icons. I’ve often been asked my opinion why certain games seem to just take off in the App Store. Some seemingly simple games just seem to rocket to the top. What could it be?
While the type of game is certainly important, it seems pretty clear that a good icon and a good screenshot are the main impact you have on casual App Store shoppers.
The same question can be asked of what causes an app to skyrocket to the top 10 when featured by Apple? Apple is basically giving you an itty bitty banner ad in the most trafficked area of iTunes and your icon is what represents your app. It seems obvious this is going to make a difference in attracting potential customers.
These suspicions were corroborated by one small focus group study of iPhone usage published late last year. Comments by this small group of individuals indicated that icon design was pretty important in deciding what app to get:
I think that many developers have already realized the importance of their icon but are they really looking at it as scientifically as they could?
I’d think that a really serious iPhone developer would spend time working on a variety of icon designs and try to figure out which has the highest click through rate when lumped on a page with other icons.
These sort of A/B testing trials are done all the time with regular banner ads. Click through rates can vary substantially between different banner designs. And the most clickable designs aren’t always immediately obvious. For example, color choices alone can make a big difference in banner ads click through rates. And when dealing with featured App Store positioning, I’d think that a small percentage increase in click through rates could make a substantial difference in sales.
I’m not sure where such an experiment could take place, but it does raise some interesting possibilities.