Inside the world of Android icon and theme design with Travis Hall

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Before I started my writing career I dabbled and played in the world of Android icon and theme design. I worked with an xda-developers group named The Collective and helped create graphics for their custom ROMs. Admittedly, I sucked at it. There are some who still enjoyed the work I did but I was never really satisfied with my design skills. My skills are better suited to writing, photography, and videography.

The loss of my work to the Android icon and theming community is no real loss because there are many others who are far better. One such person is Travis Hall. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Travis via Google+ and the man is truly a talented designer and great human. He even entertained my hair-brained idea of making Android themes for this website and our former website MOARGeek. While the themes turned out amazing, I don’t think they ever grabbed that much traction.

But Travis does just great with his own brilliant ideas, he has Android icon packs on the Google Play store and has recently started making icons for jailbroken iPhones. Like anyone else, Travis had to start somewhere and he’s penned an interesting origin story about his start in graphic design and Android icon and theme design. With Travis’s permission we’re bringing you his story below, check it out and be sure to check out Travis on Medium and Google+.

My Orgin Story : By Travis Hall

Travis can be found on Medium as well as Google+, his website is forthcoming and you can get his Apps on Google Play.

Sometime around the summer of 2010, I decided to jump head first into the world of jailbroken iPhones and experimenting with changing simple things like icons and UI images. The jailbroken community was very inviting and cooperative. It was a matter of browsing a forum, finding something you liked, and then downloading some files to begin customizing your device. Themes were released with certain support files such as Adobe Photoshop template files for customizing icons even further. This was a goldmine for knowledge to budding design enthusiasts.

Once getting a feel for how the file was set up and how layers interacted with each other, I began building what I would want to use. It started with taking a phone icon someone made with a generic set of numbers on it, and using Photoshop to erase those and put in my own number. I posted it to a forum, and requests started coming in from other users. I struck a friendship with one of these users, Matt Fidoe, and we started discussing how graphic artists got their skills. One day we finally said to each other, if someone else can do this, why can’t we? In no time, we were making a theme from scratch. Simple shapes and shadows for icons, and tweaking layer styles for UI images seemed like an activity we could do for hours upon hours at a time.

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Bayside Icons by Travis Hall

At a certain point, with any hobby or new skill, you want to test your abilities and expand your curiosity to original ideas. Sure it’s fun to critique that person’s style, but have you found yours? Choosing to evolve from simply altering existing artwork and images, I set out to keep drawing what I enjoyed. I reached out to friends and started with logos. This helped me to think on a small scale for design. It’s easy for the brain to run wild with ideas, but design is about what makes sense, not necessarily what has the “wow” factor. I soon realized that I cared for a more minimal and simple approach to design.

In the design world, you quickly realize that there is a never ending supply of inspiration and style. Just like music and other forms of media, trends come full circle, and a person’s personality is what helps set their work and style apart. If you and I went to a park and were tasked with drawing something, we may see the same things in a completely different manner. More over, we will almost assuredly draw them in different manners. Don’t be afraid of these things. This isn’t a standardized test, there are no wrong answers. Design is a commentary on culture and life. It’s meant to evoke feelings and thoughts, and to send us down our own paths of logic and inspiration.

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Timeless icons by Travis Hall.

Once I realized that iconography was something I enjoyed, as well as seemed to have talent for, I began to focus on original concepts. Icons specifically, are meant to represent a miniature form of a brand or mobile app concept. Take nothing for granted or assumption. What makes sense to one person as a standard, might be something completely different from what you’re going for. There are only so many ways a phone can be drawn, but the purpose of a phone app, the familiar images, and elements associated with the app can all be examined and re-imagined countless times over.

Once I had a style and plan of action it was time to start making a set. If it wasn’t something I’d use myself daily for free, I couldn’t imagine asking someone else to pay for it. I was lucky enough to get a great deal on Adobe software while beginning my design career, but thankfully now there are multiple alternatives(free and paid). After the software, I suggest browsing YouTube and using search engines for phrases like “design tutorial”, “photoshop/sketch/illustrator/gimp/blender tutorial” “free (program name) brushes/vectors/fonts/icons”. These simple phrases and videos are invaluable for learning.

There are thousands upon thousands of videos, icons, fonts, tutorials, resources, etc etc for graphic design. Also there are many websites that give away daily inspiration like color palettes and other artist’s works. Resources exist to make your work flow easier. Not every artist makes everything from scratch. From using fonts for promo images, to icons for mobile apps, to mockups for UI testing, resources are there to help you.

If you’re serious about turning graphic design into a money maker, be it as extra income or for a freelance career, you will need to research a market. For me, I enjoyed making icons for Android devices and selling them on the Google Play Store. There are other online avenues such as Creative Market and IconFinder that don’t involve coding like Android apps do. If you’re interested in designing for Android, I suggest focusing on design first. The massive amount of icons needed to be successful on Google Play shouldn’t be what dictates your style and direction. Whether you’re designing 5 icons for a small client, or 3,000 icons for a large scale app, you have to have a clear and consistent design style in place.

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Faded icons by Travis Hall.

In conclusion, the journey of any artist is never finished. There is always something different to learn, and there will always be something that’s new to you. Another bit of advice I have, is to stay true to your styles and beliefs. It is all too easy to fall victim to social media comments and market standards. Those sort of things shouldn’t be what drives you or decides your artistic views. You have a unique view of the world, and using art as a medium is a very powerful tool. Find what you like, learn how to bring it to life, and just create. People can only judge what’s been created, not what’s been planned. You simply taking the actions to create and experiment is more than the people on the sidelines can take credit for. So stop reading, and go create!


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