My iPhone has been jailbroken for about 3 months now. I have installed and deinstalled many third party applications. One trend I have started to notice is how I order the icons. Before I go on, I have to say that I miss Apple’s simple pre-jailbroke homescreen the best.
After installing around about 40-50 applications, I noticed that I was having to spend longer selecting a particular application. I realized that this was due to not only having to navigate 4 new homescreens, but also because I had to ‘read’ the text under icons to work out what the hell the app was. It comes down to icon design, which is a combination of colour and symbol. Did I say I am also very slightly colourblind? Thus, I have always favoured simplistic colour palettes for logos, symbols etc. The iPhone in it’s virgin state was great. Apple’s design of homescreen makes it extremely easy to find what you want, with the default Icons clear, basic design and colour. So to find an application, after a short time it was pre-programmed in my mind: ‘ second-row, far right-blue’ was always Weather.app. I didn’t need to ‘think’, just an instantaneous visual cue, and my finger was always at the right place. Things changed once the design and control was released from Apple’s grasp via Jailbreak. It started getting a whole lot worse (I’m not even going to start to analyze the third party ‘themes’ you can install, that’s a whole different ballgame, and I don’t go there). Some of the standard icons for applications are so badly designed, that most tend to be very dark, and also suffer from trying to put as much visual representation of the actual application inside a 57*57 pixel space as to be entirely illegible.
So what I have now is an ordered bunch of homescreens that (from Apple’s default screen) descend in order of icon legibility. Coincidentally the applications that follow the default screen tend to have better designed icons (simpler and more symbolic) and these are also the applications I use the most. But after three homescreens, it descends into darkness – literally – with most apps having poor icons. It takes me far longer to select an application on the fourth homescreen than on the second, as I have to read the actual text underneath the icon to get a real idea what the application does.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that the developers of applications don’t necessarily make good icon designers. It would be good if developers tried to follow a kind of MHIG from Apple (Mobile Human Interface Guidelines) even though it doesn’t really exist yet.
No matter how ‘cool’ your icon design is in terms of graphical effort, it means nothing if it is not instantly legible to end users just what your application does. In this case, a simpler ‘less-is-more’ direction is the best, not just for the users but also for the ‘brand’ identity of your application, after all you don’t want to end up on the ninth homescreen in the dark, where nobody goes….