In a world where entrepreneurship has never been so trendy, it is said that 137,000 new firms are born globally each day.
All those new businesses, and also the more established ones need communication, marketing, data management (of course) and branding to stand out. Consumers’ brains swim constantly in an ocean of images, content, articles, podcasts and newsletter spam, and it becomes even harder for businesses to attract their eyes and hold their attention. Especially when it comes to branding, the struggle is real, every business wants to build a unique face for themselves that represents their values and sell their story, this is for them the best way to differentiate and win this mighty available human brain time.
We can observe that more and more companies, in a lot of different sectors use illustration in their branding like Dropbox, Uber, Slack, Mailchimp, and the list is long.
Why do we see so much illustrations around? Is this way of communicating helping companies that much?
In other words, is Illustration awesome?
Communicating with images is not a new thing at all, and everyone who needs to communicate knows that visuals are very powerful. This is why most corporate companies buy stock images to accompany a large amount of complicated jargon words, because they help the user associating a mood, a feeling with those words. But stock images often come from the same suppliers, and they very often look generic, all the same, which is not helping businesses standing out from competitors and looking so new and disruptive in their sector.
This is why many of them chose to communicate with illustration because they convey the information on an emotional level and create a stronger bond between a brand and its users.
Dropbox for example has been using illustration since before 2008, they were produced at the time by Jon Ying, who worked in customer support, and didn’t consider himself an illustrator. He had a vision that hand drawn colour pencil stick character was a great idea to create that relationship with the users, so needless to say that many discussions and meetings were necessary for this to be accepted as a viable strategy, and it paid.
It worked for Dropbox in a context where their product was going down daily and they needed a quick and easy way to communicate with frustrated users and let them feel that they were dealing with real humans behind computers, working hard on solving their problems
“These days, debate about using stick figure drawings often resolved itself through the classic engineer’s agreement: try it, and if the data didn’t support it, they wouldn’t do it again. Fortunately for us, people really responded to Jon’s work. They even went so far as to take time out of their days to email about the drawings. It was a hit!"
- Michael Jeter, Creative Lead at Dropbox.
Their branding then later evolved and they kept experimenting, hiring illustrators and valuing illustration since it worked for them. One of their illustrations, aimed at discouraging existing PRO users from downgrading to a free plan, is believed by some to have saved the company millions of dollars!
Slack is one of the many apps out there that promise you to optimise your workflow, enhance communication with coworkers and etc. After all, those online products may or may not be so different from each other, they all have in common that they are related to work, and thus it takes extra effort to make them sound exciting or sexy. But Slack knows that and that’s why they they articulate their brand messaging around strong values and and big ideas like making work more fun in order to stimulate and inspire users to be more productive and more creative, and fluidify communication between team-members through a delightful and incredibly well designed product. They tell users a story that is more likely to make them feel understood by the product’s creators and make them engage with the brand.
"People do not buy goods & services. They buy relations, stories & magic." Seth Godin
As mentioned before, we know that stock images are used and have been used by every business sector to sell products. And we now know, thanks to Mr Godin that 21st’s century consumers have been bombarded by those images for quite some time and are now craving something new and refreshing, something delightful.
Brands know that. They also know that everyone can afford stock images, that’s why it’s everywhere and looking all the same (think latte art on a blurry office-like background, people smiling and laughing while pointing at line charts on screens, happy white-teethed families having a good time, sitting in the grass….) how does that make you feel? Not so appreciated.. But if someone, like a real human, say an artist even made an image, bespoke for your brand or your product, it instantly feels premium, high-end, and the users feel more appreciated because you’re not wasting their time showing images that they’ve seen so many times.
Advertising or packaging can be something more than what they are, they can become Art, and consumers will want to keep it in their lives. Eurostar is one of those brands that uses illustration for communicating on the emotional level with users and make them feel appreciated by presenting to them crafted, premium, bespoke design to make them feel exceptional, so they deserve an exceptional product.
There are many more reasons why illustrations can be a huge benefit for brands in many different sectors,
but when it comes to tech start-ups, digital, online businesses, or companies that sell abstract products or services, illustration is always a great way to embody big ideas and give a face to a brand. Those types of companies usually have a challenge of having to explain complicated concepts or processes such as data managing tools, cryptocurrencies, blockchain and so on, which illustrations can make more easy to digest.
It is also a great tool to reinforce a brand’s tone of voice, give more personality to the brand, and strengthen the whole messaging consistency.
And at the end of the day, if we’re going to populate the world with even more images, more content, more billboards and posters, and twitter and Instagram posts, should we not do everyone a favour by trying
to make them as delightful as we can to please our eyes and our brains?
To conclude, I would say: Yes, illustration is awesome.