Over the last year or so, illustrations have taken the world of marketing by storm. Many notable brands are using them, especially in the SaaS industry, so it seems reasonable to ask where’s the catch.
And if everyone’s doing it, how does any company stand out from the rest of the pack? Well, these are not exactly easy questions to answer (otherwise we wouldn’t need a whole article to discuss the topic), but there certainly are some major advantages of using this approach. However, you also need to be careful when implementing it, so keep reading to learn all the most important info about this fascinating trend.
What kind of design are we talking about?
First, a few basic facts about the topic. The style discussed here is at first glance very simplistic: the shapes are simple, the colors are flat, there is very little detail, and the human characters you get this way often look more like caricatures than real human beings because their limbs are often way out of proportions. Some artists will compare this often to collage, saying that it’s all about the shapes used in the picture.
Often, these illustrations are called vector or flat illustrations. But all you have to do is to type in the word “illustration” into Google, and you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about here.
You don’t even have to be able to draw a decent picture by hand in order to become an illustrator. Everything can be done by computers which correct every wrong stroke of your mouse. Programs like Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator are the only tools you need to start creating. And yet, the popularity of this kind of design has been soaring for quite some time now.
Where can you find these illustrations?
In a word – everywhere. By now, websites like Pinterest and Shutterstock are packed full of them, and you can easily find what you’re looking for there. Even libraries containing loads of examples you can then combine into something completely new and unique are scattered all over the internet. All kinds of graphics and illustrations for all kinds of roles, functions, and activities. And while they may look generic, the fact is that a huge number of businesses have employed them over the last year or so. Also, as mentioned before, this style of illustrations is by far the most popular result of a Google image search.
The number of companies that opted for this is quite staggering, and there are some pretty illustrious names there, too. Sure, not all of them went through a complete rebranding process just to switch to this style, but Airbnb has implemented them as icons for their customer support, for example, and not on their home page.
On the other hand, Headspace, a website dedicated to meditation and mental health, has embraced the concept completely, and every page there is full of various illustrated characters.
Shopify has filled its users’ dashboard with these guys, and the same goes for Slack’s messaging platform. The style has even spread on YouTube, with the Kurzgesagt channel numbering more than 11 million subscribers and millions of views on every single video. So, as you can see, illustrations are used pretty much across all fields of work and by many different companies. The question is – why?
Why is illustration design so popular?
The main reason, I’d argue, why these things are so popular is their simplicity of use. You can easily express with them whatever you want and convey the main idea of your product that way. Finding a stock photo for the thing you need may prove to be a challenge, not to mention the cost a photo session may incur. Furthermore, these illustrations can be deployed quickly and can be easily modified to always add a dash of uniqueness to a page. Not only that, but big brands will often turn these illustrations into animations, which is fairly easy to do with this style.
The bottom line is that it can be quite easy to communicate with your prospective clients that way and create pretty much whatever you want.
Many of these illustrations are just basic human shapes without any faces. While that may sound a bit creepy when written like this, if done correctly, it can help people identify with the figure they’re seeing. For example, if you’re using this to depict some sort of accounting software, having an illustration of a person sitting in front of a desk surrounded by folders and papers can resonate well with the people you want to reach – they can see themselves in that particular situation and put their own face on that person in the picture.
Finally, because of the versatility these illustrations possess, although many of them look similar at first glance, you can easily come up with something unique to your website. On top of that, you can use them to represent everyone, something an audience who wants to see as much diversity as possible will undoubtedly appreciate.
What are the disadvantages of this style?
While this type of illustrations is indeed very versatile, easy to use, and popular, it is certainly not for everyone. For one thing, there are so many companies using them right now that it may be pretty hard to distinguish yourself on the market and make your brand recognizable. This applies in particular to the SaaS industry.
That being said, however, it may not necessarily be bad to follow the trends. You don’t want your clients thinking you’re old-fashioned, or even obsolete, because that would be one of the biggest branding mistakes to make.
Psychology says that people form their impressions about other people they meet in a matter of seconds (some scientists say it’s even less than that!), and I’d argue that the same goes for brands. Only, if you’re an online business, a bad first impression likely means that the potential customer will search for what they need elsewhere.
Another thing to consider is that an actual photo can resonate more powerfully with the people who visit your website. It can affect them in a much more profound way. This is especially important if what you do has a lot of interaction with real people, like if you’re a company providing services involving human resource management or something along those lines. If providing service, not a palpable product is your thing, custom photos can be a far better choice.
Invest time and effort into research
Rebranding your company is not something that should be done on a whim. It is a serious undertaking that can take a lot of time, even months before it is implemented. Yes, there are that many things to think about, especially if you’re running an already established business and not starting from scratch. And if you decide to hire a big agency, the process can be quite costly, too.
Therefore, you don’t want to rush things and end up with a product that is not at least on par with the latest trends. It has to resonate well with your potential clients, convey your message clearly and efficiently, and represent you and your company well. This is why coming up with something good can take up a lot of time and resources, but the rewards, in that case, will be big – you will show your potential clients that you are running a modern, up-to-date business that can stand out from the rest of the pack and offer something creative and of high quality.
And those are pretty much the basics about the current illustration craze. It’s easy to see why so many companies, particularly in the SaaS field are using them, but do keep in mind that simply rebranding just for the sake of rebranding may not yield the results you’re hoping for. For so many reasons, the internet is full of these things, so it may be difficult to stand out. And while extremely popular, this style has its downsides, so you should carefully deliberate if this is the right choice for you and your business. On top of that, switching your style may not even be what your clients want.
Rebranding is serious work if you want the best possible results, and the process can take months to complete. You can be certain that companies like Airbnb and Facebook weighed out carefully both the pros and cons of going with this style, even if it was only for a minute part of their websites. But if you do decide to go with this kind of design, you’ll be delighted with the level of flair and personality it can get you.