Park Trails App Icon
graphic Design / illustration / Branding

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Project Overview

Launched: April 2016
Industry: Government
Allegheny County, with its nine public parks, developed an app to help visitors navigate its trails. As the resident web and graphic designer, I was tasked with creating the app's icon. 
In my mind, there were three main priorities. The design needed to:
1. Be professional, simple, and stand out well among other app icons on smartphones and tablets.
2. Align with the county’s new branding. (Allegheny County had launched a new website and branding package in November 2015.)
3. Covey the outdoor nature of the app in an original way. 

Project Breakdown

Entering New Territory
This was my first time designing an app icon so I started with some research. I wanted to know the answers to questions like: What makes a solid app icon? What common mistakes can I avoid? What do I need to know that I wouldn’t even think to ask?
Once I had a solid foundation of information to build upon, I moved on to the design concept.

Initial Idea - Using the Logo
The county had recently released a new branding package, so my initial thought was to incorporate the new logo.
The emphasis here is on "incorporate."  I didn’t want to use the logo "as is" for two important reasons. One, I wanted a very simple design and color palette. The logo includes four colors - blue, green, gold, and white. Plus, there would need to be a background color. That was simply too complicated. Second, if the county released an official app in the future - offering county services and information - then the logo would be best used there. (If they so desired.)
So rather than use the logo outright, I tried creating a play on it in some way.
A few ideas where I played with the overall triangle design. In some cases, I envisioned the shape being used as hills and/or including roads or water. In others, I incorporated it into an outdoor object such as a compass or sign.
In the end, however, none of the ideas were coming together as well as I had hoped. So I took a step back and switched creative gears.

Focusing on Being Different
From the beginning, I knew I wanted an original icon. A search of iTunes Store revealed that similar apps used the typical imagery - mountains, trails, trees, boot prints, etc. Even though our app wasn't directly competing against them, I still wanted something that said "fresh" and "different" - just like the new county branding.
A sample of icons found in the App Store.
The question was, though, what did that entail? What design would bluntly convey the app’s purpose while still being different?
It was a real puzzle. To get the brain cogs flowing, I hopped onto and started searching for images related to trails, hiking, and the like. Nothing was sparking any ideas - that is, until a specific vector set caught my attention.
One of the silhouettes in the set was of a man looking off into the distance. From his backpack and hiking stick, it was evident that he was trekking through the outdoors. But it was his pose that inspired an idea.
The original silhouette. After checking iStockPhoto’s license information, I discovered that I could use the figure in an app icon. This saved me from creating a similar silhouette myself. Woohoo for project efficiency! 
Bringing in the Color
When I saw the figure’s pose, I immediately thought of the yellow color in the county’s logo. Yellow represents sunlight, so I immediately envisioned that as the background for the icon. As if the man is looking out into the horizon.
I then used the logo’s blue color for the silhouette itself. It paired well with the yellow since blue and yellow are complimentary colors.
The silhouette cropped, colored, and placed on a yellow gradient background. 
Bed Rolls Not Allowed
My department’s management team approved of the design. However, one of the managers - an avid outdoor enthusiast - pointed out that there appeared to be a bed roll attached to the backpack. Since county parks do not allow camping, this could potentially cause confusion. Thus, I went back inside Illustrator and altered the shape of the backpack to eliminate the “bed roll.”
No more bed roll!
End Result
In the end, the final product met all of the project goals. The purpose of the app is very clear. The icon incorporates two of the county’s branding colors. And, the design is both original and professional. In fact, when viewed alongside apps from Apple or other high profile organizations, it blends in rather well!
A mock-up resource that I utilized during the design process. It was handy to see how the icon would look at various sizes and among other icons.
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