Cover Image for The art behind the Darkroom app icon

The art behind the Darkroom app icon

Darkroom is known for its modern, Apple Design Award-winning design, and its app icon is no exception. We thought it would be interesting to gain an inside look from Jasper Hauser, the co-founder and designer behind Darkroom, on the how and why he designs Darkroom's app icons.

What's the story behind the two triangles logo?

Founders Majd Taby and Matt Brown designed the original Darkroom logo and app icon - the two mountains and purple gradient - inspired by the majestic Norwegian mountains near Bergen. The minimalist, silhouette-style design emphasizes the beauty of the landscape and provides a subtle reference to photography. It's easily recognizable and memorable.

Why has the app icon changed over the years?

When Jasper took the reins of Darkroom's design with the 2.0 release in 2017, he set himself a challenge: to update the logo without sacrificing its essence. Aiming to make the app icon dynamic and creative, the core visual brand idea was to reflect the tool's ability to empower photographers. Inspired by brands like Nike and Apple who have stayed loyal to their main logo shape but are always creative with their brand, always reflecting their evolving style and our changing world. And let's be honest, we also really liked the idea of having a fresh new look on our home screen now and then.

App icon updates are also practical and serve as a beacon for customers, alerting them to a major update. Apple provides a blue dot, but honestly, a bolder approach - a shiny new app icon - is more effective for grabbing attention and letting customers know something exciting is happening.

A grid of 2 x 3 Darkroom default app icons for all major versions
6 major updates of Darkroom's default app icon, one family, very different personalities.

What drove each evolution of the app icon?

We love to shake things up with a new app icon for each major update. It's a great way to draw attention and add some fun. The icon should still be connected to the old one in some way, to keep a balance between innovation and consistency.

  • Version 1 and 2 of the app icon have sharp corners, in line with the prevailing visual design esthetics of iOS at the time. In version 2, texture was added and the colors softened to give the brand more depth and warmth.
  • Version 3: The switch to photo-realism in the icon was a visual protest of the loss of visuals due to iOS 7 in 2013. The neon lights loosely referenced the red lights used in the analog darkroom. And, this major visual change matched the magnitude of the app update itself.
  • Version 4: We wanted Darkroom to fit in on iPad, so we returned to a simpler, warmer aesthetic, where detail was provided by subtle, softer shading rather than photo-realism. The logo shape was also more rounded by giving the two mountains rounder corners, removed the gap, and had the two mountains overlap instead.
  • Version 5: For our Mac app the app icon got a makeover referencing the colorful and bold Aqua visual style. The shape and color palette was kept similar to the main variants made for version 4, adding a glass-like texture, and making it feel like a big change by re-introducing the boldly colored frame.
  • Version 6: The addition of Masks was a big deal in terms of creative possibilities. To reflect the app's ability to smartly select parts of a photo, the logo was enhanced with stars in the background and a warm, dusky color segmented gradient inspired by atmospheric perspective.

Why does Darkroom have app icon variants?

Around version 4, Apple had just released dark mode and other apps had begun offering icon customization as a premium feature. We decided to introduce app icon customization, which included both historical default icon variants and new creative variants for Darkroom+ customers to pick from. And a small gourd of people wasn’t always a fan of our more recent app icon changes. App icon customization is a win-win - they get to personalize their app to express their own personal style and we get to flex our creative muscles.

A grid of 5 x 6 app icons showing all of Darkrooms available app icon variants
With 29 variants Darkroom provide a wide selection of unique icons for people to customize their home screen.

Are there any underlying patterns in all the icon variants?

Yes, all variants are thematically relevant and connected, referencing either a recent or historical visual style related to Apple's brand, something from our own history, or popular culture. They should be fun, creative, or nostalgic. Over the years, the logo shape has transitioned to be friendlier, bigger within the app icon's rounded rectangle, and the color palette brighter and more colorful. Texture and shading are used to make each variant distinct.

Two posters on a wall side-by-sde, each featuring a large selection of released and unreleased app icons
These two posters where presents given to the team, featuring all of our major app icon updates, as well as many sketches and variants.

How will the app icon evolve next?

We don't know what future holds for our app icon. We'll decide closer to the next major release. In the meantime we collect visuals, icons, color palettes, sketches and feedback to create an inviting, warm and visually appealing icon. Eventually, we choose the one that catches our eye. Stay tuned!

Darkroom's app icon has evolved over time, staying true to the original design while being creative and reflecting the changing world and user needs. Our commitment to design excellence and staying up-to-date reflects the app as a whole, and will remain the visual brand cornerstone for years.

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