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Home screen layouts and how to theme them

Even if you don't actively theme your phone, you do actively lay out your home screen. Layouts are the way you arrange the apps and widgets on your home screen. We don't talk about them nearly as much when theming as we should. In fact, I try to avoid specific layouts in my themes so they are more accessible to users of varying tastes. But layouts are important, whether you intend to theme your phone or not.

Some people like their home screen to have as little on it as possible. Some people want everything on the home screen they possibly can squeeze in there. Some people are a little of column A and a little of column B, because we believe that the space on our home screen is meant to be used, but we don't need/want to cover up every inch of it. No matter which camp you fall in, all of us can benefit from seeing the differences and the benefits of each approach.

Heavy home screens

These are without a doubt the most prevalent layouts in the mobile space, in part because these layouts look a lot like how Windows Phone and iOS home screens look: a vast sea of app icons and (maybe) widgets. For users who have recently migrated from one of these platforms, or users on their first smartphone, this busy layout is a taste of the familiar, like the desktop they save everything to at home.

There is a method to this madness... there has to be. Oh. The alphabet.

Because everything important is in one place, these users spend little time digging through apps they don't frequently use in their app drawer. It keeps some users focused on the apps they need to use, rather than getting sucked in by an app that catches their eye in the drawer. If there are widgets here, they're usually a clock, some settings toggles, and maybe a weather widget.

Despite the time-consuming look of these home screens, these layouts are usually the quickest to come together: drag everything you need to the home screen and maybe sort them. However, busy home screens also don't leave much space open for gestures beyond a double-tap.

These layouts may look chaotic to the untrained eye, but to the user who set them, everything has a place and they know where that place is. When theming a heavy home screen like these, stick to simple wallpapers without a single area of focus. Icon packs are especially important here as the screen is covered in apps. If you use a lot of obscure apps that are unlikely to be themed in icon packs, alternative icons and filters for unthemed icons matter.

Minimalist home screens

At the other end of the home screen spectrum lie screens with as little on them as possible. Minimalist home screens are tidy, they are simple, they are here to stay out of the way and let you get what you need to do done. The default layout on most third-party launchers, and even some manufacturer launchers like Google Now Launcher, lean towards the minimalist side so as to not overwhelm new users.

Folders are your friend

Sometimes, their home screen will be completely clear, just a small array of apps in the dock and a wallpaper that's easy on the eyes. Maybe there's a single widget at the top with the time and weather, or maybe another row of apps above the dock, but that's it. While this makes it easier to find the few apps that are there, this does mean that you'll dip into your app drawer more often, so app drawer organization becomes much more important.

Folders allow many of us to cheat, giving us a clean look on the home screen while still offering more apps outside the app drawer. When theming a lean home screen, you have much more freedom with your wallpaper, as that will be the most prominent element on your screen.

The need for your icon pack to compliment the wallpaper is higher with these layouts because the few apps that are there stand out more. Widgets with clear backgrounds play especially well with minimalist layouts, but a bright, custom widget can also serve as a bit of a statement.

Mixed home screens

Mixed home screens try to strike a balance between the shelves of shortcuts and the emptiness of a minimal layout. These layouts can skew busy or simple, trying to make the most of the space given to them without overcrowding things. When building themes for myself or the site, this is the layout category I strive for.

The train's a-comin', and those widgets better get out of the way!

The key to a well-balanced layout is defining the space you do and do not want to use. If you've got a phablet and don't want to strain yout thumbs reaching for that top row, keep your folders and icons down low while leaving the top for glanceable widgets, or leaving it open to show off your wallpaper. I usually keep the middle open on my themes, both to let my wallpaper shine through and to have an open space for gestures.

Because mixed layouts are somewhat built around their device or wallpaper, they'll adapt to most themes you throw at them. If your wallpaper is busy in the middle of your screen, lay out your elements on the top and bottom of the screen. If your wallpaper features a character's profile on the left side, keep your apps and widgets to the right.

The key here is being flexible with your element placement and playing around with your layout until you find what works for you.

Busy or beautiful, there are layouts for everyone

Beyond these three broad categories for home screen layouts, there are many more precise flavors and variants to try, and there's a method to the madness for each and every one. My dock consists of six folders and a phone. A friend of mine hides almost every app and just uses search to pull them up.

How do you make order out of the chaos on your home screen? We're always looking for ideas. Share your layout with us in the comments below, and stay tuned for more theming tips and tricks here on Android Central.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • I've always been a minimalist when it comes to my screen layout. My wife is the opposite, with every app icon on her screens. Her phone makes me crazy, lol. Oh, well, opposites attract, eh?! Doc Posted via the Android Central App on my Motorola Droid Turbo 2
  • I'm happy to see more and more theme articles showing up lately. It's one of the better things about Android, but it isn't the easiest to get started with (depending on your device, of course). Posted via the Android Central App
  • Some of these are cpu hogs, yes? Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Nope. You have to get really animation heavy for the home screen to have much impact on the system, in my experience. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Widget refresh rate has to affect battery more I works assume? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Technically, but the only time I've ever seen a widget show up in my battery stats was after a bad update.
  • I can get on board with the Pokemon one. Lam I Am
  • I use Apex Launcher...tried many of them and I like the menus and how to navigate it. My latest favorite icon pack is the Empire icon pack by DrumDestroyer. My other favorite icon pack is Balx by djskarpia.
  • Oh dear Lord. Pls share the wallpaper with me/us. Especially the minimalist ones. I am in love. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The mountain one is from Materialistik
  • Want the train wallpaper please
  • here ya go.
  • Thank you so much, my son is gonna love it....... Funny I thought that was big thunder mountain and it is Posted via my HTC One M9
  • Disney Parks Blog has always been a huge resource for my themes. March Magic gave me custom dock icons and they post beautiful wallpapers on a regular basis. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I go minimalistic with just one widget on average on every homescreen and wallpaper for that last one? Really nice one Posted via the Android Central App on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • that last one, meaning the train one?
  • I want the wallpaper for the third minimalistic home screen.... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Mountain wallpaper was included with Materialistik
  • I want a theme that gets me holo Yolo back. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • That could be an interesting throwback thursday sometime...
  • Ara, I'm a very seasoned user but I found alot of your ideas and suggestions very very helpful. I'd just like to say thank you. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You're welcome! And I'm hoping to bring more suggestions to our readers in the future because if there's one thing my theming experience over the last few years has taught me it's that home screens evolve.
  • +1. Great article. Definitely need more on theming. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Very interesting article. I feel like I'm more of a mixed/in-between user. I like the look of the minimalist type, but since I'm new to Android (came from wp), I don't know how to make folders. Going to see if that I can find that somewhere. Using the Nexus 5x.
  • Folders vary depending on the launcher, but for most, just drag one app icon on top of another on the home screen. I need to do up a quick post on that, though because folders are important in home screen theming and layouts. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Ooh that's good to know, thank you! I'll appreciate that when you make it.
  • I think folders could be a whole article, especially with all the advanced folder options on Nova, ADW, and Action launchers for example. (First Icon is my usual folder preference.)
  • (A-HE-HE-HEM) Yo.
  • It's a causality loop! (Actually I didn't notice the comments were from a year ago..)
  • Asus Zenfone 2 with Nova Launcher, Moonshine icons (my default icon pack) and Min icon pack for small dock icons. Running CM 12.1
  • I actually really like that!
  • The Astronaut wallpaper pls :) Posted via the Android Central App
  • Link for the storm trooper/smoke (for me) and Ariel (for my daughter)!
  • The Ariel one came from Disney Style, the link is in this week's Wallpaper Wednesday post. I'm going to be pestering the AC staff for links when it's not their Friday night. Posted via the Android Central App
  • And stormtrooper:
  • Does the Google Play Store still add the app icons on your home screen by default? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yeah, but you can (and should) shut it off easily. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I would say out of these, I'm definitely a "mixed" home screen person. Although I do keep everything clean and not too cluttered. Gold Platinum Galaxy Note 5
  • I wish I could use icon packs with the Google Launcher. I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • One of these should do it for you, but they only change the icon on the home screen. They can't change the icon in the app drawer.
  • What keeps you with the Google Launcher? Out of sheer curiosity? Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't really know. I just like the simplicity of it. I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • There are simple launchers out there that still offer the benefits of customization. It's just a matter of diving into one.
  • I've had a few. Nova Prime, TSF Shell, and Action, but I always seem to go back to Google's. I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • Same here. Google Now Launcher is my mainstay. At times I switch between Nova and Action Launcher 3 Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't quite understand the fascination of GNL. I would put 5-6 launchers ahead of it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • That's your opinion and it works for you, but for me I like the simplicity of it. I understand that it lacks customization, but it works fine for me I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • I don't understand either. I've even discussed this and conducted polls on Google+. For some reason people (me included) love the Google Now Launcher. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I believe it's the "Swipe right to Google Now" feature that some keep coming back to GNL.
  • That's why I prefer it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • And that can be done via gestures in other launchers. Not seeing the benefit of Google Launcher over more customizable launchers personally.
  • Really good read. Made me smile when I got to the minimalist home screen. Describes me to a tee. Posted via my LG G4
  • I'm of the minimalist school of thought. I have four folders with the apps that I use most often sorted by category and then individual icons below those consisting of phone, contacts, messenger and camera. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I favor mixed home screens, but some look closer to heavy. I have my most used apps on the first screen and I designate the other home screen panels for entertainment, productivity, etc. It's all very organized, I think. And I really like the HTC Sense themes.
  • I'm really enjoying the theme articles. I'm more minimalist. I use Nova on my Nexus 6. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I just use one of my own pics from a recent holiday we've had, one dock on bottom for the things I use and that's it. Nova launcher is my fave. I'm a minimalist, looking at my partners iCrap gives me a headache with all those widgets... Chuckle..
  • Except her widgets would be in her notification center, not on her home screen because iOS still doesn't allow home screen widgets. But I get it, looking at busy home screens sometimes gives me a headache, too.
  • When I had an iPhone, I almost never swiped down, except for notifications. I never knew how to change what widgets I could and couldn't see. Maybe you can't, I still don't know :)
    With Android, it's so much easier. Just press and hold. And it's on the home screen, which is so nice.
  • Ive tried different launchers. Nova just fits me the best. My app drawer is left alone and alphabetical. However I like my set up minimal. The gestures and ability to swipe apps and folders for different actions is a feature I cant live without. Posted via the Android Central App
  • What's the wallpaper and icon pack for the 3rd one one under minimalist homescreens? Really liking the look of it! Blackberry Priv
    Nvidia Shield "Portable"
    Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • The mountain wallpaper came with the materialistik icon pack
  • I have one home screen which the "home" button brings up,showing time and temp, but I have 3 other "home screens", one for the apps i use most, one for lessor used apps, one for games, and one for etc. I rarely have to go the the app drawer. I just swipe through them.
  • +1 for the minimalist way of life. I was using Google launcher and recently switched to action launcher 3, I have not looked back. I love folders! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Does anybody know where I could download the mountain wallpaper from the minimalist verisons? I did a quick Google search for it and I couldn't find anything... Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's included in Materialistik
  • Thanks! Posted via the Android Central App
  • On my own phone (LG G4 with Nova Prime), I use a mixed setup. I like to mix both the clean look of minimalism with the functionality of a heavy home screen setup. My dad's Galaxy A5 (2016) has a minimalist setup while my mom's Zenfone 2 has a heavy home screen. My dad's LG G3 (second line) is like mine. All their phones use Nova Prime so that the experience is somewhat consistent so they don't have to fumble around as much when using another phone. This is my current home screen. I'm open to suggestions on improving it, but don't say "change your wallpaper". It's not going away until I say so.
  • This link should work if it asks for permission. Please don't die, my love (New G4)
  • A purple or neon ic