Zen, and the Art of Stunning App Icons

By Tom Davenport on at

HD screens have ushered in a design revolution where details don't just matter -- they're a requirement. Now an emerging scene of designers bound by format guidelines are treating their icons as visual haikus, and the photo-realistic results are stunning.

One great place to browse contributions to the app icon trend is Dribbble (yes, with three Bs). It's like twitter for designers, where they simply post a 400 x 300 pixel sneak peek of whatever they're working on. Or at least, they're supposed to, but the designers invented their own ways of using the format and often craft art for no other purpose than sharing it on Dribbble. In fact, the site has had to adapt to user trends and recently added 800 x 600 uploads to support HiDPI screens (and so people like you and me can zoom in on all those pretty pixels).

Román Jusdado says he squashed this retro radio into shape in his free time. Notice the golden hue from the wood reflect from the radio dial. The original version on the right made more of its chrome linings, but both pieces are super stylish.

Another icon from Román, this time a leather journal packed with holiday memories. It was supposed to be for a travel app, but apparently it was rejected in favour of "a simpler icon". Because the clients were obviously barmy.

Forget the Fresh Prince, neon ski jackets and Pokemon cards. The 90s were all about these three consoles, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. They were created by Konstantin DatzEugene F and Raphael Lopes respectively.

Konstantin, who made the SNES icon above, has made quite a name for himself with the rounded-box format. Look at the ripples under his glass of whiskey -- and those starched swimming shorts are pretty smart too.

Ramotion proves himself as a true artist with perfectly cast leather and photo-worthy lighting on this boxing glove. It looks good enough to grill and eat.

Another icon from Ramotion, this time with an artist bag stuffed with creative goodies. Clearly it helps to have sketching skills before taking the design to Illustrator to give it a digital polish. The shading on the fabric is just insane.

Here's another icon which eschews the rounded-box format. Eddie Lobanovskiy also posted a short video which whizzes through the design process from sketch to the beaming final image.

There's something of a remix culture on Dribbble where designers can 'rebound' a post by developing or re-imagining it. A sketch by Eddie Lobanovskiy was completed by Creative Dash who painstakingly added every grain of wood to make this sturdy door.

Creative Dash doesn't just remix other sketches. They're a dab hand with a pen themselves, and have become some of the most prominent Dribbble designers using the rounded-icon format. This action-packed pirate ship scene spills off the page and experiments with a mind-bending depth of field.

Finally, we love this camera shoot-out between two designers. The Canon was by Konstantin Datz (he did the SNES and whiskey glass above), and the Nikon is by Gianluca Divisi. The contrast in lighting and texture styles are apparent, but both are gorgeous -- especially the colourful lenses.

This week, we're celebrating the many facets of modern design on Gizmodo UK, with a design theme week. Bookmark this page for all related stories, features, interviews and competitions, or contact us here with tips.