The Importance of Illustration

Written by: Charlie Donahue, Senior Product Designer 

In a screen-centric, busy world, how can a company reach an audience in an authentic, humanistic way? It’s a question most companies today ask. And the answer might surprise you; illustration. While it can’t work alone, illustration can play a vital role in creating a narrative and make a company seem more human. From simple iconography to detailed scenes, incorporating illustration can add character and personality, moving a brand beyond just pixels on a screen.

So many companies understand the importance of creating a brand standard, one that usually includes photos, colors, typography, logos and a tone of voice, but illustration is seldomly included. Which is unfortunate because including an illustration system, a defined set of graphics with precise rules on style and tone, can elevate the other aspects of the brand. A headline on a webpage can be highlighted with font and color but including icons can add emphasis and provide character. A marketing or sales presentation can be heavy with text but displaying some of that information as an infographic can allow the user to relax while still keeping their attention.

An illustration system can also function well on its own, acting as an extension of the brand. Shapes from a logo and color palettes can be incorporated into detailed illustrations to maintain a narrative and help the user recognize who they are interacting with.

Another important element that can be added to a system is rules to define use of motion. Motion has become as big of a trend as illustration and they can easily work together. The union of the two can help create a fun, approachable setting that users want to engage with.

While this all sounds simple enough, defining an illustration style can be tedious. But the initial development and hard work only makes a company’s life easier in the future. There are many established brands that have worked to create a strong illustration system. Below are some notable ones, and what they do so well.

Material Design

Google created Material Design and within it, a stellar illustration system. Like Google itself, the system provides seemingly endless possibilities. Every use you see follows strict guidelines but never seems repetitive or stale.

Asana

Asana’s illustrations have a retro vibe while still being ultra-modern. Their illustrations are strategically used to surround, and draw interest to, product screenshots, campaign videos, input forms, etc.

Shopify

Shopify tells a unique narrative through copy but elevates it with illustrations. They give the text more of a personality and, again, draw the user’s focus. They refer to their platform as “mission control” and include a woman commanding a post in their illustrative style.

Slack

Slack’s iconography is more illustrative than standard icon sets and helps to continue their tone. They also do a great job of incorporating their brand elements into their illustrations. Their logo patterns are often used to let the user know “this is Slack.”

Mailchimp

Their logo is a monkey with a cap, so the tone for Mailchimp is a bit quirky. This is elevated with their unique icon sets and abstract, yet informative, blog illustrations. They prove it’s possible to have fun but still get your point across.

Four Winds Interactive (FWI) is also on the path of creating an illustration system that will help elevate our evolving brand style and tone. In the last year, our internal signage promotions for special events relied heavily on illustration to create a fun, unique atmosphere, and the illustrations were all well-received. This has only increased the need for a system which all facets of FWI can use.

We’ve recognized the importance of having a defined illustrative style and are in the process of creating one. And we’re certain that our brand, as well as our customers, will benefit from it.

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