Illustrations are becoming more and more popular in the design of websites and applications. They are used with increasing frequency, but this isn’t just a fashion statement. Not all designers think about what exactly constitutes the power and potential of illustrations and know how to apply this power purposefully. Our team has been working with illustrations for a long time, and we are happy to share our experience with the readers.
Illustrations perform a variety of functions. They work as visual explanations and visual examples, make the brand recognizable, maintain the stylistic unity of the project, and help highlight the main thing. Illustrations make the project unique and memorable, one of a kind. They inspire the affection and trust of users in the resource. And these are just a few of the possibilities of illustrations.
An interface is not a place for useless decorations and cute but unnecessary elements. They aren’t decorations. Illustrations should have a specific purpose and only be used purposefully.
Designers need to first define the goals they want to achieve with illustration techniques.
Let’s take a look at typical goals.
Illustrations are good for creating visual instructions or user guides. Minimal drawings are much better than photographs because they don’t contain distracting details and show the necessary actions or steps of the user clearly. With the help of illustrations, you can concisely demonstrate the activities of the company, tell its story.
Instructions such as purchase steps, process stages are better understood with the help of simple visual demonstration rather than photos.
Illustrations, especially graphic ones, are essential for navigation. They help you easily create a “path” and show users where to go and where things are located. Images of arrows, pointers, pointing hands, roads and “traces”, scaling of elements to create a visual “path” — all this contributes to a better user orientation on the site.
An interesting, spectacular illustration instantly attracts attention. If a drawing and a photo of the same visual weight are located side by side, the user’s eye is more often attracted by the drawing. This is the specialty of our perception.
The accentuating illustration should be placed exactly where we want to direct the user’s attention, and not somewhere nearby to fill the free space for the beauty of the composition.
Icons, stickers, pictograms made using illustration techniques are much more attractive, interesting, and unique. They can’t be compared to templates from databases. Drawn icons help maintain the unity of style, create emphasis. Along with functionality, they can serve as decorative elements.
Illustrations are an integral part of the brand’s style, along with the brand colors, fonts, logo, and mascot. Illustrations help to emphasize the features of the brand, to distinguish it from many unmemorable others. An illustration that is repeated on a website, on product packaging, on business cards, and other media is quickly remembered and associated with the brand by the users.
An outstanding, original, unusual or simply beautiful illustration attracts the eyes and arouses interest, which users mentally transfer to the content as well. Illustration helps to visually stand out from the mass of template projects much more effectively than using photography.
Illustrations in a long text not only make it clearer and more interesting but also contribute to the easiness of reading and perception of information. A large number of photos, especially detailed ones, often complicate the perception of the text and make the page visually heavier. Small minimalistic drawings help break the “text wall” and make it easier to read.
The use of illustrations for adornment and decoration is justified only if such a design is intended to create a special atmosphere.
If you know ahead what mood needs to be created and what kind of atmosphere users will prefer, it will be easier to choose illustrations and decor elements.
A drawn character attracts attention, wins the users’ favor, arouses sympathy. For example, what happens if you remove the cute yellow bird from this application? Will at least one child be interested in it? Of course not. And if you replace the drawing with a photo of a bird? The answer is the same. The character is indispensable!
It works just as well with adults — mascots, various characters, and images still win our sympathy. Personalizing the brand image is a smart marketing move, not an artists’ whim. No matter how old you are, Mickey Mouse remains your acquaintance, whom you won’t confuse with anyone.
First of all, the character is a friend and helper. For example, on the Duolingo website, an owl helps to learn a language, praises, approves, and gives out awards for achievements. The owl is depicted simply, even schematically, but such a character is also remarkable and evokes positive emotions.
The task of the illustrator is to create a recognizable and memorable image that will be associated with the brand by the users and evoke the desired emotions. Then users will come back to them again and again, as to their good old friend.
A beautiful drawing is a work of art, not a product for mass consumption. By decorating designs with high-quality, stylish, and even distinguished illustrations, illustrators create more than just a unique product. They broadcast the belonging of users to a certain circle and non-verbally communicate that this resource unites people with good taste, education, and culture of a certain level. The illustrations can also reflect certain traditions. There are many resources for which this is crucially important.
For example, the illustrations on this site spread the spirit of the good old English traditions (thus, the quality of the product and the reliability of the company):
And these sites position themselves as elite clubs with the help of illustrations:
Illustrations can be not just attractive, but distractive as well. There is an effective way to distract attention through illustrations. This is the use of so-called “mesmerizing” images or interesting drawings with many details. Having entered the site, the visitor examines such a drawing closely and remains on the page for a long time. As a result, they get an idea of what is being offered here.
Distraction is sometimes used as a marketing trick. For example, a page contains several sales proposals, one of which is extra expensive. If an unusual, spectacular, or even strange picture is placed next to it, the user’s attention is distracted and switches from thoughts of a high product price to the idea of a special, exclusive offer. It has been proven that this trick works — the product is psychologically perceived as less expensive and worth of it.
These are the rare exceptions when illustrations should be distracting. If illustrations distract from important content, it already means a gross design mistake.
Designers’ sympathy for illustrations doesn’t mean that the site needs to be overloaded with pictures so that it turns into a comic.
Illustrations should be relevant and functional, meet the goals of the site, and the overall design concept.
Illustrations should be skillfully combined with photographs if there are any. It’s far from always worth replacing a photo with an illustration, and sometimes it’s just unacceptable. So, pictures of a product, important processes, and services, tools, real people (for example, portraits of company employees) shouldn’t be replaced with pictures.
The relevance and number of illustrations, their purpose, and focus, style, and techniques of implementation should be decided only on the basis of marketing analysis data.
Drawn content means there are living, interested people behind it, not soulless programs. These people tried their best for users, putting their strength and talent into the work. Illustrations always appeal to users. They make the design humane, authentic, and inspire trust and sympathy among people.
Hand-drawn illustrations evoke more emotion in people and attract attention, thus increase their responsiveness to the information provided.
The Internet today is a place for communication, contacts, and mutual understanding. It’s in the best interests of every business to create on its resources an atmosphere that attracts users, to gain their trust and interest. Illustrations are one of the best tools for this purpose.
If you aren’t a designer, but the owner of a future site, you should study the portfolios of different designers to choose the style of illustrations you need and make sure they are of high quality.