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back to article Icon design for dummies fanbois

This month, we broaden the bailiwick of the Mac Secrets column. From now on, I’ll cover not only undocumented Apple APIs and programming techniques, but also other topics of Mac developer interest. This time around, I examine the thorny issue of application icon design. Why thorny? Well, even if you can churn out awesome code …

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RE: Shameless...

Math Campbell 1 said: " the type of mind that excels at programming rarely excels at artwork"

You're absolutely right -- hence the need (in my opinion) for tools like Axialis. I consider myself an absolute duffer on the artistic side, but I was surprised how easy it was to make some really nice looking icons with this app. Despite another reader's comments, they definitely didn't look like cobbled-together monstrosities! At the end of the day, I suspect that even a pro icon designer would build up their own library of PSD masks, etc, that he/she can draw upon as needed. In effect, this is what IconDesigner is giving you.

That said, it works for me, but I can certainly appreciate that the results achieved by a pro icon designer can't be matched by the Axialis compositing approach. Happy to further your shameless self-promotion (<grin>) by providing your web address: http://www.graphicsforge.co.uk/. And your icons look great, BTW. ;-)

Dave

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coding is art!

Well if not art then creative expression

Give 10 developers the same requirements and you will get 10 different, unique and individual ways of representing a solution to same problem.

That said I do agree that this won't necessarily make them good graphic designers or artists :-)

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anyone see the irony...

... of a Mac fan suggesting people use a Windows tool if they really want to get creative ;)

What next... coding enterprise SQL apps on a Mac?!

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Pint

Um

Err, yes, the author did, that's why he wrote a few sentences saying so

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Ironic? Not really.

You use the best tools for the job don't you?

I expect that the majority of devs happily use a variety of platforms. The vocal minority and trolls who insist that the platform that they use is the one and only true path to enlightenment are just that - a minority.

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Pint

$69?

Lots of excellent FREE Icon editing SW on Windows and Linux.

But if it's important, get a graphic designer involved.

Having the right tools doesn't make an Artisan.

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Gates Halo

...And Some Hokey Libraries

The freebies are good (especially for the price :-) ) but you can get caught between the trap of developing with a (near) free icon suite - extra and better quality libraries are always going to cost - fair's fair, and paying for an application that has good tools and libraries available all-in-one.

This is a balance that you'll have make for your own self - if you're using the free Express Studio tools, 3rd party libraries are the only way to to go here and as you aren't (supposed to be) developing professional apps with these, the temptation to shell out any real cash is low (though not quite zero I admit), At a certain level of development, a separate design team will be the way to go but for the small programmers who seem to be proliferating with things like iPhone and Android, design-work might not seem too important yet .

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Silver badge

There are some OS X-based choices too.

"Pixen" is probably my favourite graphics app on any platform. (The most similar Windows app is probably Pro Motion.) It's still not quite as comfortable for me as "Art Studio" was on the Atari ST, but I guess I'm just showing my age.

"Pixelmator" is a cheaper version of Photoshop, with the very useful feature of not taking an ice age to load and, of course, being rather cheaper.

(Intaglio looks interesting though. I'm downloading the demo as I type...)

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FAIL

And why are we designing our own icons?

Except for a desktop icon for your own program, you should be using the native OS and/or toolkit icons for a standard look & feel. I don't want to be deciphering yet another cutesy "save file" icon. This program is probably targeted at the same people that think Comic Sans is funny.

And "Math Campbell 1" is right. I have yet to meet a coder that could do anything artistic.

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Jobs Horns

Why?

Er that'll be to avoid being sued / rejected / nailed to the cross and pelted with rotten fruit by Apple.

See the bit in the article and links on the Rogue Amoeba fiasco, paying particular attention to where it's stated that they're not bundling the (copyrighted) icons, but merely invoking their use from the OS via API.

I totally agree with you that one should use the native OS icons to preserve look and feel, unfortunately it appears that Apple's opinion differs to ours.

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Coffee/keyboard

Ask, it won't kill you

"The Pro Edition costs $69.95, which is a fraction of what you’d have to pay if you employed an icon designer to create artwork according to your specifications."

You might find that, depending on the purpose and cost of your application, you could find a pro or talented amateur designer to produce a very nice icon for you at little or no cost. It will look much better than bashing together some monstrosity from a kit of parts.

Sometimes it's who you know, not what you know, that counts.

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Paris Hilton

You know what?

The most important thing about software is the functionality, not the pretty pictures.

When are we, as a culture going to grow up and get over this obsession with form rather than function.

There is an obvious way to illustrate my point.

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Re: You know what?

Get a copy of "Don't Make Me Think!" by Steve Krug. Read it. Understand the content. Apply it. I'll concede that it's aimed more at web design, but the principles of good UI design are the same. The amount of dev designed UI's that fail well written functional software because of your attitude is incredible. Why don't we just make everyone use the CLI, like the good ol' days? I'd argue your unillustrated "obvious way to illustrate" point is probably way off the mark - simply because you don't value how something looks. Like it or not, "form" is important. As every good designer and engineer will tell you form is *as* important as function. Neither one is more or less important than the other. As for icons, have a look at the work of Jon Hicks, a master of the art of icon design.

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Happy

Message for Robert Harvey

Robert,

This is a roundabout way of saying thanks. I was having a delphi problem when changing the current printer (printer.printerindex etc etc). Then I found an old post from you in a forum from about 1997 which got me off the hook. So even after 12 years, it is of use!!!

Cheers

Tom Byrnes

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FAIL

Paid for by Axialis?

This article surely is an April Fool? Or paid for by the Axialis?

XCode has icon composer (free) and OSX native. If you are developing apps for the iphone or OSX you will have XCode... you will have icon composer.

I'll admit that Its not really for doing the icon design but you can cut and paste from your fave painting program!

Also Binging will find you iconographer (free now) which is also OSX native and has a full set of tools and incidentally imports .ico files too.

If you want to pay then Icon Builder is available from the CandyBar/Pixadex people... who no article about Mac Icons ought to ignore!

Perhaps it was just too much to ask for a piece "about Macs" or the "Jesus Phone" to have some relevant material in it.

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RE: Paid for by Axialis?

SpamBot said: "XCode has icon composer (free) and OSX native. If you are developing apps for the iphone or OSX you will have XCode... you will have icon composer. I'll admit that Its not really for doing the icon design but you can cut and paste from your fave painting program!"

Your second sentence demolishes your first. You kick off by saying that XCode has a free icon composer, then you admit that it's no good for composing icons. ;-)) I've used a variety of dev tools including Visual Studio on Windows. All the built-in icon/bitmap editors these tools provide are just that -- bitmap editors. They present you with an array of empty pixels for you to fill in!!! Did you actually read what I said in the article? Some of us need a little more help than that.

And by the way, Axialis have not paid me a penny. On the contrary, I paid them by buying myself a copy of IconDesigner. Yes, I'd love to see something like this native on the Mac, but thus far, I haven't seen anything that comes close.

Dave

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FAIL

ouch...

Your inappropriate use of the verb "bing" just made me bing up all over my keyboard.

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Fair enough!

I take the points..but of course I read the article. I think the best point is in your last comment in the response; in that a tool of the class of Axialis isn't available in OSX, and if you'd started with that premise then I'd have not thought this was just plugging one of a number of PC icon tools. I agree with that statement 100%.

I was suggesting that you can use OSX tools to make icons you don't have to go to the PC & Axialis.

On that note its called "Icon Composer" by Apple not me, so I pointed out its not an icon composer in itself. However it is free and it is a way of converting bitmap art and a mask into an Apple compatible icon resource (which was the point I was trying, badly it seems, to make).

I have used Axialis and it is a very good PC icon making package. However, despite nodding in the direction of OSX it didn't, last time I checked it out, export to all the various icon resource formats for OSX and lost some masking information making the transition; that situation may have improved.

I use and have paid for ;-) MicroAngelo on the PC and the difference between that an Axialis which I think on balance is better wasn't worth my switching and Iconographer opens and edits .ico files anyway.

I am not sure of the point about bitmap editors and filling in pixels... all icons are is bitmaps and a mask, and if you are going to make icons from scratch you are going to be filling in an array of empty pixels. The alpha channel anti-aliasing and blending that the icon tools do are possible with painting programs too.

Anyway - I appreciate the time taken to respond.

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Happy

Thank you

for noticing... I hate Googling for stuff these days! :-)

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gimp > *

using a windows app to make icons for mac. i thought they were supposed to be good at this sort of thing - at least thats what every mactard fanboi robotically turdspurts at me. oh wait i get it - they are!(?) but you have to part with lots of cash first right..

i have actually used this icon workshop thing in the past and tbh i found it a bit clunky - i have since moved on to using the gimp to make all of my icons - its a very powerful tool that can read/write icon files - by far the best overlooked option imo.

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Pint

Keep it simple

Like all design, icon design looks easy. It isn't. The best icons are understood in an instant, accentuate the function and are not separate from it.

By all means get the function of your application working perfectly - this should be done as a matter of course anyway, but making a great application is all about attention to detail, and this includes the icons. They are not design 'fluff' to be added as an afterthought.

Pint? Form and function excellently combined.

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Happy

RE: And why are we designing our own icons?

Gene Cash said: "Except for a desktop icon for your own program, you should be using the native OS and/or toolkit icons for a standard look & feel."

What an odd coincidence! It just so happens that this article is all about designing your own desktop icons for your own apps. Odd, that..... ;-)

Dave

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Seems costly

It looks excellent but it seems horribly expensive when packages like Glyph Combine (http://www.icons3d.com/combine.html) will allow you to do the exact same thing for free (no, nothing to do with them - just use the software - for free).

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RE: Seems costly

Bassey said: "It looks excellent but it seems horribly expensive when packages like Glyph Combine (http://www.icons3d.com/combine.html) will allow you to do the exact same thing for free"

I agree that IconWorkshop is more expensive than I'd prefer, but not horribly so! ;-) Maybe I'm just a cheapskate - hence my personal choice to "roll my own" rather than going with a pro icon designer.

I suppose it depends on other factors too. E.g. if I've just spent a few winter evenings knocking up some little preference pane (sorry - Mac speak!) and I don't expect to make much money from it, then I might roll my own icon and post it on a website as "donation-ware". But if I've laboured over something wonderful for six months or more, and I expect it to keep the prawns on the table for a while, then it's more likely to warrant the attentions of a pro designer. That makes sense, at least to me.... ;-)

I've just looked at Glyph Combine (thanks for the heads-up) and it looks ok, but very crude. It's only for combining images whereas IconWorkshop will let you create stuff from scratch -- if you're able to do so.

Dave

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Another Editor....

Since writing the article, a correspondent has drawn my attention to another image editor, specifically for creating icons. It's called IcoFX and you can find it here:

http://icofx.ro/index.html

Plus points: It's tiny (written in Delphi, natch) and surprisingly powerful for it's size. Oh, and it's free (donation-ware). Negative points: it doesn't come with a ton of royalty-free images like IconWorkshop does.... and it's another Windows app.

Yeah, I know, spoken like a true fanboy, blah-blah...... ;-)

Dave

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