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In a world of continuous automation, evolving algorithms, and more bots interacting on the internet than humans, an interesting trend is emerging.  Some of the biggest businesses in the game are utilizing one of the oldest tricks in the book: illustration design. 

It seems that with every passing month, a new product or app is added to the universe that didn’t previously exist (think Dropbox, Postmates, Airbnb, Headspace, and Dollar Shave Club). 10 years ago, none of these companies existed and none of their products were relevant to our lives. Today, they’re integral. 

With this new wave of post-iPhone brands developing, designers and agencies face a new type of challenge: what do you do when clients ask you to create a brand identity for their one-of-a-kind project or app that can’t simply be explained by cookie-cutter stock imagery? 

An illustration is a natural choice for situations like these. As humans, artwork feels familiar and innate to us, but it also has the ability to wander into abstract territory and help visually explain hard-to-grasp concepts.

So why aren’t you utilizing illustration design for your brand yet? My guess is you might feel intimidated or understaffed without a professional illustrator on your team. The good news is you only need a few helpful hacks to be on your merry way. 

Hack #1: You Don’t Need Picasso on Your Team to Build Illustration Art into Your Brand

MailChimp Illustration

Mailchimp is an awesome example of this. Having recently undergone a rebrand, the email marketing giant opted for a simplified brand identity consisting of a whimsical serif typeface, pops of yellow and playful (dare I say “elementary”?) doodles to emphasize their goal of helping small, quirky businesses. Used in tasteful doses, Mailchimp hits the nail on the head of being clean-cut and relatable to their customers. If Inc. Magazine’s 2017 Company of the Year can build a killer brand with some kid-like drawings, so can you.

If you don’t have the budget for a freelance illustrator and don’t think you have the creative chops for it either, try checking out Shutterstock, Bigstock, or Adobe Stock. For a small price per month, you can invest in incredible artwork for your team to utilize.

Hack #2: Your Vibe and Your Voice Need to Match

HeadSpace Illustrations and Artwork

If you’re going to use illustration design in your brand’s identity, it needs to match whatever the heck your brand is selling! Don’t use Google’s doodle style to sell your boutique perfume brand.  And don’t use Free People’s bohemian collage of scribbles and photos to sell your startup’s banking app. Make sure the style of your artwork is speaking to the audience you want to reach. 

Headspace is a brand that achieves this harmony (pun intended) beautifully. As a meditation app for everyday people, they keep their brand art simplistic with a side of playfulness. If you look closely, even their orange circle logo is an imperfect circle.  These small imperfections communicate that they’re trustworthy and personable. Most importantly, they understand that their users are busy people that need something clean and inviting to use in their everyday lives.

Hack #3: Less is More. Always.

It’s important to remember that illustration design will always pack a big punch.  With that in mind, go easy on how much you layer throughout your website, app, and everything else you produce. One brand that always seems to grasp this well is Intercom. Their illustrations are fairly busy and quirky so they use them in small ratios to the rest of their site, which is relatively sleek and monochromatic. Try to keep illustrations and artwork under 10% of what appears visually in your brand.

Hack #4: Keep Evolving Your Illustration Designs.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a creative, it’s that roughly 99% of the work I make will end up in the garbage—and I’m okay with that. The process of constantly creating is where I grow as a designer and artist.  Keep that in mind with your brand, too.  Don’t feel boxed in by brand choices you made last year.  What works for this era of your company’s growth might not feel right in 6 months.  That’s good.  It means you’re evolving, and your brand should too. I can’t think of a company who encapsulates this better than Dropbox.  Their business has always relied on illustrations to tell their story and explain why consumers need them. You can read about the evolution of their brand identity here and here. If there’s one takeaway from Dropbox, it’s that change is constant and your brand will be more successful if it remains fluid and open to this.

Hopefully, this speaks to the increasing popularity and importance of brand illustrations, but if you need more convincing, check out how illustrations have shaped these brands:

Keeping an eye on visual trends and constantly evolving as a creative is crucial in our industry. Could your brand benefit from the use of illustrations? Contact us to launch your illustration designs to the next level.

Jason Lehmkuhle

Jason Lehmkuhle

Jason joined the Vert team from Minneapolis where he designed and built websites professionally, ran marathons competitively and ice-fished occasionally. As the Director of Interactive Design Lead, Jason oversees the creation of rich interactive experiences on apps, websites and other digital media designed and built for Vert clients.