The Making of an Icon, Part 1

May 14th, 2012

When I made the original Mac-only Anthropomotron, I had to make its icon as well. Back then I thought it would be neat to make an ‘A’ shape using a femur and calipers. The result was this:

As I’ve said before, a lot has changed since 2004. Icons nowadays are even fancier and the old Anthropomotron icon was barely acceptable even for that time. I decided that I would take another stab at making the Anthropomotron icon.

Apple has written icon design guidelines for iOS apps (and one for Mac icons).They’re a fascinating read for those interested in graphic design. They emphasize a sort of shiny realism: realistic elements but simplified. I’ve also liked the generic Mac app icon, which also has an ‘A,’ with a ruler as the crossbar. One of the things i didn’t like about the old Anthropomotron icon was that it didn’t look definitively like an ‘A.’ It kind of looks like an ‘R.’ For the new icon I decided to add a clearer crossbar, adding a ruler to the picture. I drew the concept and scanned it into Illustrator:

I was happy that my drawing skills have improved since 2003. But, there are a few problems. While the proportions are realistic, the legs of the ‘A’ are very thin. If the entire ‘A’ is visible, the shapes become ambiguously small.

Also, I’m used to the comic art style, which has black outlines defining the shapes. That’s not realistic. I tried to solve these two issues by removing the outlines in Photoshop and zooming in the image so the ruler is along the bottom edge of the image:

I thought this was better, but it’s still missing something. It seemed to lose a lot of its ‘A’-ness in this alignment. A little frustrated, I grudgingly went to bed. After a few minutes of laying there, I bolted out of bed, fired up Photoshop again, and did this:

Tilting everything worked! I saved that, and slept like a baby. The next day I worked towards making the final draft of the icon. I made the blue and yellow match the actual colors in the app. Then I added some textures to the three elements (wood, metal, and actual femur texture), and some gradients and shading for depth. This is the final Anthropomotron icon for iOS:

Next: a step backwards for the Android icon!


3 Responses to “The Making of an Icon, Part 1”

  1. Michael Walker says:

    That’s some nice work Lou, but wouldn’t it look better if an octopus was holding the calipers and a raccoon was gnawing on the femur… and they were gazing into each other’s eyes longingly? mmmm… interspecies sexual tension at the dig site

  2. Keith says:

    That’s what I image ten years of conversation distilled into one sentence would sound like.

  3. […] icon size is now 1024 x 1024 pixels, the height of a non-retina iPad screen. When I made the Anthropomotron icons, I didn’t account for any future demand for higher resolution graphics, so I made them at 256 […]

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