Beautiful, compelling icons are a fundamental part of the macOS user experience. Far from being merely decorative, icons play an essential role in communicating with users. To look at home in macOS, an app icon should be meticulously designed, informative, and aesthetically pleasing. It should convey the main purpose of the app and hint at the user experience.
Consider giving your app icon a realistic, unique shape. In macOS, app icons can have the shape of the objects they depict. A unique outline focuses attention on the object and makes it easy to recognize the icon at a glance. If necessary, you can use a circular shape to encapsulate a set of images. Avoid using the rounded rectangle shape that people associate with iOS app icons.
Design a recognizable icon. People shouldn’t have to analyze the icon to figure out what it represents. For example, the Mail app icon uses a stamp, which is universally associated with mail. Take time to design an engaging abstract icon that artistically represents your app’s purpose.
Embrace simplicity. Find a single element that captures the essence of your app and express that element in a simple, unique shape. Add details cautiously. If an icon’s content or shape is overly complex, the details can be hard to discern, especially at smaller sizes.
Provide a single focus point. Design an icon with a single, centered point that immediately captures attention and clearly identifies your app.
If you’re creating a macOS version of an iOS app, design a new version of your app icon. Your macOS app icon should be recognizable, but not an exact copy of your iOS app icon. In particular, the macOS icon shouldn’t use the same rounded rectangle shape that the iOS icon uses. App Store, Maps, Notes, and Reminders provide icons for macOS and iOS that are recognizable, yet distinct from one another. Reexamine the way you use images and metaphors in your iOS app icon. For example, if the iOS app icon shows a tree inside the rectangle, consider using the tree itself for your macOS app icon.
Use color judiciously. Don’t add color just to make the icon brighter. Also, smooth gradients typically work better than sharp delineations of color.
Avoid mixing actual text, fake text, and wavy lines that suggest text. If you want text in your icon but you don’t want to draw attention to the words, start with actual text and make it hard to read by shrinking it. This technique also results in sharper details on high-resolution displays. If your app is localized, prefer fake text or wavy lines over actual text in a specific language.
Avoid including photos, screenshots, or interface elements. Photographic details can be very hard to see at small sizes. Screenshots are too complex for an app icon and don’t generally help communicate your app’s purpose. Interface elements in an icon are misleading and confusing. If you want to base your icon on photos, screenshots, or interface elements, design idealized versions that emphasize specific details you want people to notice.
Don’t use replicas of Apple hardware products. Apple products are copyrighted and can’t be reproduced in your icons or images. In general, avoid displaying replicas of devices, because hardware designs tend to change frequently and can make your icon look dated.
Perspective and Textures
Design an icon with appropriate perspective and a realistic drop shadow. In general, an app icon should depict an object as if viewed through an imaginary camera that’s facing the object, positioned just below center, and tilted slightly upward. This camera should be positioned far enough away that the icon is nearly isometric, without appearing distorted. To achieve a realistic drop shadow, imagine a light source that’s also facing the object, but is positioned just above center and tilted slightly downward.
Consider tilting your icon after rendering it. A small amount of rotation can help people distinguish your app icon from documents and folders. A rotation of 9 degrees tends to work well.
Use only black in your icon’s drop shadow. In some contexts, such as Cover Flow view mode in Finder, app icons are displayed against a dark background. If an icon’s drop shadow uses colors other than black, the drop shadow can appear more like a glow.
App Icon Attributes
All app icons should adhere to the following specifications.
|Layers||Flattened with transparency as appropriate|
|Resolution||@1x and @2x (see Image Size and Resolution)|
|Shape||Square canvas; allow transparency to define the icon shape|
Don't provide app icons in ICNS or JPEG format. Add de-interlaced PNG files in the app icon fields of your Xcode project's asset catalog.
App Icon Sizes
Your app icon is displayed in many places, including in Finder, the Dock, Launchpad, and the App Store. To ensure that your app icon looks great everywhere people see it, provide it in the following sizes.
|Icon size (@1x)||Icon size (@2x)|
|512px × 512px (512pt × 512pt @1x)||1024px × 1024px (512pt × 512pt @2x)|
|256px × 256px (256pt × 256pt @1x)||512px × 512px (256pt × 256pt @2x)|
|128px × 128px (128pt × 128pt @1x)||256px × 256px (128pt × 128pt @2x)|
|32px × 32px (32pt × 32pt @1x)||64px × 64px (32pt × 32pt @2x)|
|16px × 16px (16pt × 16pt @1x)||32px × 32px (16pt × 16pt @2x)|
Simplify your icon at smaller sizes. There are fewer pixels to draw as icon size decreases. In your smaller icons, remove unnecessary features and exaggerate primary features so they remain clear. Even when a high-resolution size matches the pixel dimensions of a standard size, you should still consider simplifying the smaller rendered image. For example, the 128pt × 128pt @2x icon appears smaller onscreen than the 256pt × 256pt @1x icon, even though both icons have the same number of pixels. Visually smaller icons shouldn't appear drastically different from their larger counterparts, however. Any variation should be subtle so the icon remains visually consistent when displayed in different environments.
Keep high-resolution and standard-resolution artwork consistent. For example, the 256pt × 256pt @1x and 256pt × 256pt @2x images should look the same. Some people use multiple displays with different resolutions. When they drag your icon between their displays, the icon's appearance shouldn’t suddenly change.