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MailDrop 2.0 Icon Story

MailDrop 2.0 IconOkay everyone, time for a little horn-tooting PR for a “design the icon” contest I won on November 18th. I think the busyness of the season and Thanksgiving holiday threw me off, because I'd intended to mention this sooner. :-)

Anyway, Matt Henderson, the owner of MakaluMedia (the company I'm design director for), alerted me of an icon contest being offered at Erik Barzeski's NSLog weblog. Erik runs Freshly Squeezed Software, makers of various Mac OS X applications, including a Mail Merge app called MailDrop. It turns out that MailDrop is being updated to 2.0 and was in need of a new icon.

Well, I figured what the heck. While I have 15-some years of graphic design experience, I've never done a Mac OS X icon before. I thought this project could be fun, challenging and educational. Better yet, the icon concept they were looking for was somewhat cartoony, and hey, I love cartooning. So I took on the project.

Erik liked the direction in my sketches and rough icon ideas, so I proceeded with the icon project and ended up winning the contest. The final set of application icons are posted with this article. We're still in the process of finalizing the app's document icon.

My icon building process took a little time to sort out at first. I ended up working in Macromedia Fireworks, because I could use vector art, yet see immediately how my changes would appear in pixels. I also experimented with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, but because of my daily use of Fireworks and its vector/pixel feature, it just suited me best.

Once I had a final icon, I exported a master PNG file with transparency. Then I opened the file with Photoshop 7 for conversion into icons using a handy Photoshop plugin from IconFactory, called IconBuilder. At $69 It's not cheap, however, for the time it saves doing icons, I can see its value. I love that IconBuilder has no use restrictions (other than a nag screen which appears after multiple uses), because this allowed me to fully test it out before we decide to purchase it.

If IconBuilder is a little too high for your budget, there are other free and shareware tools out there, like Icon Composer (included with the Xcode Tools on the OS X developer CD) or the $15 shareware tool, Iconographer.

Should an icon for OS X be in your future, check out these helpful Apple documents: Icon Genres and Families, Suggested Process for Creating Aqua Icons, and Tips for Designing Aqua Icons. Here's another useful reference: OS X Icon Tutorial from O'Reilly's MacDevCenter.

Overall, it was a great challenge, and indeed, very educational. In fact, it felt very good to dive into something I'd never done before!

Ok, here's my final PR spiel for this Friday: If you happen to need a little icon work or any other type of design work (web or print), please feel free to drop me a line. :-)

Have a great weekend!

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