Lost in a sea of color

If you were to follow the data it would make sense right? Vibrant color and tricolor gradients are going to help your brand stand out from the crowd. Companies can’t afford to be missed and as such, they are all making the switch to a more vibrant color scheme. But what if ‘Data-driven design’ is adopted by all the big players? Well, the answer is that you end up with this….

The above image was tweeted by the 𝐓𝐨𝐛𝐢𝐚𝐬 𝐯𝐚𝐧 𝐒𝐜𝐡𝐧𝐞𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐫, describing that ‘The cognitive Load is real.’

Simply put, if your brain is trying to think too hard to distinguish between the app icons, then the user experience can be somewhat overwhelming. As designers, it’s not what we want to do. Good design should result in the end-user not having to ‘work too hard’ to identify the App icon they are looking for. Ironically it should ‘jump out of them’ which is what the designers are trying to achieve. The problem here is that if everyone else is doing it [adopting the same design trends], well we’ve just gone full circle because the objective of ‘standing out from the crowd’ has been lost.

Design to stand out:

A good way to understand the impact of everyone adopting the same design principles is the ‘blur test’. Check out the image below of an IOS Home Screen and imagine yourself quickly glancing at the screen to select an App that you want to use. The blur test is designed to mimic the brain’s activity to quickly and easily interpret the information on the screen in order to select the App that you want to access and use.

At a push, I’d say that the Instagram logo is still instantly recognizable with its strong use of gradient across the entire app button. However, it’s evident that the rest of the icons are getting lost in a sea of similar use of color and gradient. Now, look at the image below without the Blur…

Still a bit overwhelming right? In essence, the icons are all still fighting for your attention. All with the same types of colors and use of gradient and it requires more brain activity and attention to process them.

So where did it all start…

Instagrams App Icon redesign in 2016 was without question hailed a HUGE FAILURE by the design community. Everyone had something to say about it and most of it was not very positive!
The redesign was overdue and much anticipated since its Skeuomorphic predecessor was a trend which had tired by 2013.

It’s certainly not over the top to say that many people simply hated it. But guess what, they soon got used to it and all that chat about their redesign was great publicity for the app. The redesign was genius. It made them stand out from the rest of their competitors on the screens and it made them stand out from a marketing perspective as everyone joined the conversation to describe how they felt about the new icon. Brilliant.

Unified design across platforms presents similar issues.

Yes, that’s right, we are talking about the recent redesign of Google Workspace’s platform icons.

Google Workspace is the new umbrella name to all of Google’s Productivity Apps, formerly known as G-Suite. Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, and many more, by housing all of their products in one place they hope to better compete with the likes of Microsoft Office and Outlook Email.

The unification of the design across their icons sees them all make use of Googles 4 color scheme whilst adopting simple shapes. This has resulted in the loss of the iconic red and white envelope icon for Gmail which has had many up in arms. We suspect it will be the same case as the Insta redesign – people will just get used to it and soon forget the old version.

Here is a snapshot of some of the productivity app icons which have been amended to suit Google’s unified color scheme…

So why is this relevant? It offers the same problems, yes the design is more unified, yes it makes all of the app icons bright and colorful. But we end up with a similar issue, they all start to blend together and our brains have to work harder to distinguish between the icons.
This has led to a number of amusing memes all over the internet and this one illustrates the point perfectly……

Perhaps what we are seeing here is a chance to jump on the ‘publicity bandwagon’ off the back of the success of the Instagram logo redesign? It’s got us all talking about Google Workspace right? Maybe that’s what they wanted to achieve and if so, great.
If history repeats itself and we all just get ‘used to it’ and accept it over time, then maybe the newest design trend is happy being sat in this controversial / widely discussed bubble of ‘what’s right and what’s wrong’

To celebrate the launch of Google’s new Workspace icons, we’ve created this free set of icons for you to use in your projects.

Google App Icons