App Icon Book Progress 1: Setting up

In early april (on my 34th birthday 🎉) I announced that I was working on a project I have been thinking about forever: A book celebrating app icon design.

I’d like to update everyone on the progress I’m making. I think it would be interesting to be transparent in the process of creating something like this. It’s going to be a journey and I’m already learning a lot. I imagine doing a few of these during the course of making this— however it may end. This is the first entry into this series. So let’s start with the beginning.

I bought the domain appiconbook.com years ago and have been waiting for the right time to launch the project. But let’s face it, there’s never an ‘ideal’ time to launch these side-projects that live in our minds. Sometimes you just have to begin and start breaking down the project into actionable bitesized doable-in-an-evening tasks. So after all those years of it rolling around in my mind, that’s what I did.

So what’s it about?

So I want to make a book. Great. First thing you want to figure out when making a book is: “What is the book about?”. That’s easy, right? I have been wanting to create a book about one of my all time favorite design disciplines for a long time. Not only because I’m deeply passionate about the subject but because I think it’s a timely book that ought to be made. I have worked as an Iconist for almost 15 years. I have lived through the changes and contributed to the field through my work, my resources, my writing and public speaking. I view App Icons as a very special art form and the past 10 years of design as a veritable treasure trove of artwork. We’re living through a golden age of icon-design and I don’t feel like that has sufficiently been captured in a nice hardcover book. So that’s what the book is about.

Next step is taking that and putting it into a digestible pitch for possible contributors to understand. I knew that I wanted this book to not just feature my work, but to curate and display some of the greatest app icons made — covering a wide range of applications, games and styles. I designed and wrote appiconbook.com for that exact purpose. The landing page is not only about getting people excited about the project (which always helps). It’s there to very clearly communicate what I’m working on, lending credibility to the project when I would eventually need to convince others that this was something worth spending their time on or letting me use their art for.

The website had the desired effect and soon after tweeting about it I started getting icon submissions. However, to get the amount of icons in the book that I’d ideally want, I would need to do A LOT of investigative work, internet archeology and cold emailing. With my other responsibilities, it was clear to me that I could either finish the book in several years or I could ask someone for help.

Recruiting

So I reached out to Jim Nielsen, whom I have been watching for a while. See, in Jim’s spare time he runs a site called iOSicongallery.com. He has been so kind to feature my work on several occasions (which is how I learned of the site). With that project he has not only demonstrated that he’s as much an icon nut as me but that he’s got great curation abilities. I shot him an email about the project and I have never recieved a more clear ‘I’m in’. We skyped and immidiately hit it off, finding out that we shared many of the same ideas about icons.

Shortly after, in a twitter DM, designer Anders Bothman volunteered his skills as a layouter— which was a our luck, because both me and Jim have very little experience with print. We had a great meeting in Copenhagen geeking out over hardcover books and what I’d ideally like this project to end up looking like.

My friend Marc Edwards also dropped me a line asking if he could help and we got a chance to catch up and talk about how he could use his incredible expertise and passion for the subject in the book.

We made a slack space. We made a trello board and the fellowship was united.

Legal framework

I realised very early on that the biggest challenge with this book wouldn’t be actually writing it or even selling it. It would be getting the legal consent from hundreds of artists throughout the world to print their work. I think this might be the single biggest contributor to why this hasn’t been attempted before in this space.

I spent weeks drafting and iterating on a lightweight and clearly written license agreement. Setting up the legal framework, asking the exact right questions and phrasing it so that both artists and my small one-man company would be protected. It’s a very unsexy part of making something like this, but absolutely vital for its success. I decided on using Adobe Sign as the method of delivery to make it easier to manage what would potentially be hundreds of agreements and signatures.

After trying out the agreement on a few guinea pigs and making a few more changes, the legal machinery was finally in place.

Where are we now?

These past few weeks we’ve had bi-weekly status meetings and a lot of talks about how to best structure the work that is ahead of us. Jim has hit the ground running and is continually doing the investigative work, finding icons we like, finding the people behind them and establishing a contact. Like a tag-team I then take over with follow up questions, file handling and license agreements. We’ve already made several adjustments to the process, and it’s getting more and more effective.

Several very prominent designers and teams are already on board and the overall response has been very positive. We’re signing artwork left and right and finding allies everywhere. As of this writing we have 130 approved icons and many more in the funnel. I’ll talk some more about the process in detail in the next post and I’ll also share some of my plans for additional content in the book that will help tell the story of app icons.

Until then, if you want to help. Spread the word about the appiconbook.com and feel free to suggest icons we should look into through the website.

I’ll be back with more updates later in the summer.

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Michael is a Danish designer, entrepreneur & keynote speaker. He runs entertainment development studio Northplay, Pixelresort and design resource platform Apply Pixels.