Often, during the development of a mobile, tablet or desktop app, the main focus of the design portion of the work is on the user interface, and the design of the app icon is left until last – and sometimes it’s just added on as an after thought. This is a huge missed opportunity, as putting care and attention into the icon can reap some pretty big rewards. Look at it this way – while your app may only be used every so often, your icon represents that app and may be seen tens or hundreds of times a day. If it’s designed well, and looks great – it may even make it to the home screen or to the dock, even if it the app is only infrequently used.

One way to help your icon stand out, and to look great, is to adopt a realistic approach. In a stark contrast to the rise in flat design, realistic icon design is the ultimate in skeuomorphism.  It’s incredibly difficult to get right, takes a huge amount of effort, time, talent and focus and can look awful if done incorrectly – but when it’s done right, it can result in an icon that’s truly remarkable and impossible to forget.

We’ve collected some of our favourite examples of realistic icons – some are just concepts while others are out there in the wild – and each of these icons is a fantastic example of what can be achieved with enough time, care and attention. We hope you find the collection useful for any icon design work that you have coming up, and if you know of any examples that would be a good fit for our roundup, please do let us know in the comments.

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If you’ve come across any examples of creative, realistic icon designs, we’d love to hear about it. Let us know what you’ve found in the comments!

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Editor noteContributor Dan writes for gift ideas experts The Handpicked Collection and The Handpicked Foodstore. In his spare time he enjoys studying graphic and web design, and is learning to code.