Redesigning the PostNord App Icons

Redesigning the PostNord App Icons

17.05.2024 7min read
Jozsef Deak

If you are a designer and someone asks you to design an app icon, the chances are that your answer will be something like: "Sure, give me 2-3 days, and I will have it ready". I don't judge you because this was precisely my answer when I heard that we would redesign the PostNord app icon. And boy, I was wrong. Luckily, I'm fortunate enough to work with amazing people with better estimation skills than me, who pulled me back to reality and helped me tackle this project the right way.

 

The Project

PostNord is one of our oldest partners, and we work with them on some of their web projects and three of their mobile apps: The main PostNord app is used by customers, The Retail app is used by service points and business centers, and The Postcards app is used by businesses.

While these apps have undergone redesigns in recent years, their icons stayed the same. The only thing they shared was the blue background, but the style of the symbols was quite different. They looked outdated and did not feel like they belonged to the same brand.

img-1-current-apps

PostNord underwent a significant rebranding at the beginning of 2021. Building on this work and adapting it to the digital environment, we updated all the apps to follow the new brand and design language. This also felt like the right time to update and align the app icons. So, together with PostNord, we set out to do exactly this.

Right from the beginning, we knew we did not just want to design three individual app icons. We aimed to create an app icon suite and develop a system to be applied when designing app icons for other current and future PostNord apps.

The goals for the new app icons were:

Carry the brand message (modern, friendly brand). Make it easier to separate the different PostNord apps (Private, Postcards). Make it easier to find the PostNord app on the screen. Uniquely Postnord.

The Process

Designing an app icon suite can be challenging, and starting with a blank canvas is scary. We also had a deadline for the project; the rebranded app launch was due in 5 weeks. We needed a plan and a well-defined process to guide us and keep us on track.

We decided to use the double diamond method and set clear goals for the end of each stage, which we synced with the brand and marketing teams at PostNord before kicking off the project. It was essential for us to involve our partners in every step of the process and to set clear goals, expectations, and deliverables at the beginning of the project to make sure everyone was on the same page and avoid any surprises along the way.

img-2-process

Goals were set, and planning was done. It was time to get our hands dirty with all that pixel dust.

Research and Exploration

From the beginning, we knew that the research and exploration phase would take at least half the time we dedicated to this project. Still, we were confident that if we did it right, we would have all of our questions answered, and the actual execution would be a walk in the park (well, sort of).

These two things went hand in hand. We started researching, saw something that inspired us, did some quick paper sketches, went back to research, did some more drawings, and so on.

Remember the goals we set for the app icon? We wanted it to be uniquely PostNord and easy to find on the screen, so the first thing we looked at was other app icons. Of course, we were planning to design one ourselves after all. We divided this part of the research into four small pieces.

Competitors - Most competitors use either their logo or a box on their app icons. App icons that use blue as a primary color - many commonly used apps use blue as their primary color. App icons are icons of apps that the average person living in Sweden most likely has. App icon design in general in different categories - trying to identify current and past trends in terms of color, symbols, and styles and to figure out what these can hint about future trends. We wanted to design something timeless but easy to adapt to possible future trends.

It's impossible to figure out all the possible ways people group and order their apps on their phones but to give ourselves some starting point, we looked at three possible ways this could happen:

How our apps look surrounded by apps that a typical Swedish user can have?. How do our apps look surrounded by blue icons if the user groups their apps by color (also, many commonly used apps have blue as their primary color)? How do our apps look if competitors surround them in case the user groups their apps by category?

We also tested how our app icons look on different types of backgrounds. We tried backgrounds with very few visual details, some more busy ones, and tried them in dark mode. We also checked their appearance in the App Store and notifications (primarily for legibility). For this, we created a little Figma asset with components that you can download from here. We used this to test mocks during the whole project.

img-3-Testing-Kit

Next, we started digging into the new PostNord brand guidelines to identify the elements that can carry the brand, communicate that this is a PostNord app, and the elements that convey the function of the different apps. So basically, "This is a Postnord app, and it is for X."

The new brand was built around a rounded shape called The Link. It's included in some parts of the UI on both web and mobile and in printed and digital media in the different service points and ads. We also designed the icons and illustrations used in the UI around the link shape, so it felt like one of the obvious choices to explore.

Other brand carriers we explored were the 3D paper-like renderings referred to as tactile patterns, which symbolize different types of packaging and the joy of opening a newly received parcel, the new color palette, and the new illustrations we made.

The various icons and illustrations were also a good starting point for exploring graphical elements that could act as symbols, representing the key functionality of each app.

img-4-Brand


Early Explorations

Focusing on quantity over quality, we wanted to explore as many directions as possible relatively quickly. We started with pen-and-paper sketches, followed by rough mocks in Figma. The goal was to learn what works better and, more importantly, what does not work. We experimented with about 20 different styles, making over 200 drafts.

What we learned:

Be careful with details. The app icon needs to work on many different sizes, some as small as 24px. Adding too many details to it, the app icon not only loses legibility on certain sizes, but it also gets harder to connect it to PostNord.Color, type, and the link are strong brand carriers - While the Postnord blue alone got a bit lost on the home screen, combining it with a darker blue color felt much more Postnord.

Customers are met with this color combination on the Postnord counter when they go into service points; they see these colors in ads and when they see Postnord staff. Their uniform uses the same color combination. This way, it makes the brand more recognizable. Linear icons are tricky - the linear icons we use in the UI do not work on an app icon. They quickly lose legibility on smaller sizes or when they are placed on anything but a flat, single-color background. Adding colors disrupts. The illustrations did not carry the brand enough.

img-5-Exploration

Narrowing down, focusing on two concepts

Once we knew what did not work, we could focus on what did. After eliminating a lot of possible directions, we were left with two concepts we liked and felt confident with.

The Link:

The link is the most used element in the brand, so it felt natural to experiment with it for the app icons. The shape's simplicity gave us many opportunities to explore symbols and background elements.

img-6-The-link-exploration

Tactile patterns:

The second concept we explored was based on the tactile patterns, the 3D paper-like renderings that were also introduced with the rebranding. By glancing at them, we saw some exciting crops that kept our imagination going. Because they symbolize the joy of opening a newly received parcel, we thought this metaphor could be applied to the excitement of "unwrapping" the app and getting an update on your package.

img-7-The-tactile-exploration

Now that the brand-carrying elements, the link shape, and the tactile patterns were decided, we started exploring different alternatives for symbols representing the functionality of the apps. It was time to go wide again and explore. We started with obvious things like the box (yes, I know, but we needed to try), iterations of our icons used in the UI, and parts of our illustrations. We also created symbols using the link shape.

While working with the link shape felt more straightforward, finding the suitable crops from the tactile patterns and recreating them in a style that fits the project was a more significant challenge and a lot of fun.

After some back-and-forth and many design reviews, we ended up with two concepts that we were pretty happy with.

img-8-Link-summary

img-9-Tactile-summary

Coming up with a symbol for the Postcards icon was straightforward. It should be a postcard. We experimented with different styles, starting with using parts of our illustrations and icons, and ended up on a clean, rounded card shape and used the link shape in different sizes to add some details to resemble the printed postcards more. The symbol we got, as a result, was bold and legible enough on smaller sizes, followed the concept of the link, and it's easy to make minor adjustments to make it fit possible future trends if wanted. Inspired by our illustrations, we also added a stamp to the symbol. The stamp graphic changes with every release, matching the actual season, holiday, or a specific physical stamp used on the printed cards.

The symbol for the customer app was a harder nut to crack. Based on what we learned from our research and early explorations, we knew that we wanted to stay away from the box and the Postnord logo. Parcels come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and the logo is not very legible when put on an app icon. We tried to create a symbol that users can easily connect to both the app and the physical parcels. We used the shipping label, which can be found on packages, and designed it in the same style as the Postcards symbol.

img-10-Stamps

We constantly tested our concepts using the Figma file mentioned above in different setups during this stage. We also tried them in all the different shapes Android icons come in.

img-11-Android


Picking the final concept, refinements

While we all loved the tactile pattern concept, and it was so much fun to explore something different, everyone felt that the link concept was the way to move forward. It felt more in line with the UI of the apps and the new brand, it felt more PostNord, and more importantly, it felt like an upgrade to our existing app icons, making it easier for users to recognize the new icons on their home screens. The link concept was also easier to adapt for other internal Postnord apps. After some minor tweaks on the symbols to make them easier to separate, we finished the final designs.

Based on the principles established during the process, we also created an icon for the Retail app and splash screen animations for all apps that match the new app icons and concepts for different web favicons.

 

Final Design

img-13-Final Everyone involved was super happy with the end results. It was a true team effort. Earlier this year, the PostNord app icon was published in The App Icon Book, a nice coffee table book showcasing app icons worldwide. We are honored to be included in such an amazing project among some of the most iconic app icons of the past decade.

Reflections

A clear plan defined at the beginning of a project makes asynchronous work smooth. Having clear goals, deadlines, and processes, we could use the time zone differences to our advantage. I am in Stockholm, and John, the other designer on the project, is working in our New York office. We had two to three hours of overlap daily, enough for a quick sync. Then he could pick up on the ideas I worked on during my day and do iterations on them, add his thoughts, and I could do the same the next day.