What is the one thing that you would seek when you visit a website, in terms of experience that is?
Let me name a few for you.
- Easy navigation
- Easily comprehensible content
- Quick loading
- Easy checkout, if it’s a store
Did I miss anything? Probably. Anyway, there’s one thing without which the whole experience would be a boring affair.
Emotional connection a.k.a. Human Touch.
Agree? Almost no one likes to interact with machines unless they have some wit programmed into them. Adding a human touch to the website helps users to connect better with the brand. There are two basic ways to introduce this:
- through text, and
- through imagery.
Between these two, the latter can quickly grab and retain attention. Except for when necessary, most people try to skip textual content. Smart typography can be appealing but again, these don’t work for long texts.
As stated in one of my earlier posts, our brain apparently processes visual messages 60K times better than textual messages.
Even if we leave the numbers aside, there’s no doubt to the fact that we usually flee from huge chunks of alphabets (right from school!), and remember images and videos much better than we’d remember texts.
So, why not blend psychology with emotions?
Now, when we focus on using imagery for connecting with people, which one should we opt for – photos or illustrations?
Photography vs Illustrations
“Aren’t good photos enough to capture attention? Why spend on illustrations?”
This is a common question. But first, a correction. Illustrations are an investment, not just a spending.
Photos are certainly good but only as long as they are relevant. A study conducted in 2010 by Nielsen Norman Group showed that people ignore stock photos and look at the ones that are relevant to the information that they seek.
Now, it is occasionally that we find a photo which is relevant as well as attractive. Having customized model shoot or product shoot is appreciable; it speaks of the uniqueness of your brand. However, when you use stock photos, you may keep finding the same image on multiple websites, until it becomes repulsive to look at.
In this case, illustrations offer a better tap on the human mind. They look great, and even if you are using stock illustrations, they can be customized to match with the content. There are other reasons, too:
- Illustrations convey a light mood, and can quickly make the user feel at ease.
- It is a fantastic way to convey the brand’s image and the friendly mentality of the people behind the screens.
- Unlike photos, they don’t restrict imagination and can thus lead to a better connection with the audience.
- These can be created in a generic way to include all sorts of audience.
- And finally, if you’re doing your own illustrations, then there cannot be a better way to showcase your talent.
So, what kind of illustrations build a better connection with the user?
“I’m designing a website that promotes a software product. I guess technical stuff like laptops, gears and similar things will best fit into it.”
No, not always.
For what seems like centuries, we have been looking at laptops, desktops and tablets neatly arranged on the website header, sometimes as stock photos and sometimes as illustrations. Yes, we did see humans, too, but they always seemed to be grinning insanely or busy looking at their screens. In short, it’s all posed. Where is the friendly person whom I can approach for my project?
Thankfully, those days are past now. Designers are now bringing images to a more humane level. Some websites have already done that. I believe we should make it mainstream. What do you say?
Bridging the Gap
Just because I’m dealing with wireframes and codes, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a fun-loving, friendly human brain guiding me. I’m just like any other person who loves social interaction. So why not portray it on the screen?
By bringing in drawings of people, one conveys the message that the website has been made for humans with emotions, and has been born out of human ideas, not just codes. Make one feel connected to the pages, as one feels connected with a good book or movie. Rather, make every one of your audience feel connected. Craft images that include people from every genre of life: scientist/artist, geek/cool, thin/fat, active/lazy, abled/differently abled – you get the point, right?
There’s yet another aspect of using illustrations over stock photos.
Establishing Your Unique Identity
Whether we are a brand or an individual, we all seek to establish our unique identities. What are the things that make a brand unique? The list is surprisingly long. Everything from the logo to the way a user navigates through the website or application to the error message – every experience counts.
Now, how do illustrations fit in this list?
Here’s how. Every person has a different style of drawing or painting or, let’s call it “representing scenarios through drawings”. Similarly, every brand can adopt its own style of illustration that reflects its essence and resonates with its audience. Developing one’s own original style is a sure way to get noticed and remembered.
Let’s take few noteworthy brands as examples.
I love those illustrations at Shopify! They are fun, colourful, unique and so humane! But why did Shopify change its style in the first place?
Design manager Meg Robichaud says,
“The existing illustration style, while visually pleasing, did little to augment the content, and only repeated the existing copy instead. It was limited in it’s ability to communicate complex ideas, and it did not accurately map to the Shopify values or principles.”
Perfect reasons to go for something new. And the transition was simply WOW!
Not very long ago, Medium has developed its own distinctive style. It uses a collage of photos and illustrations. Now, you don’t have to be religiously into illustrations. You can mix them with photos to produce an interesting effect. Basically, develop a style that people remember and easily recognize.
Medium does this perfectly. The imagery takes you to a different time and a different world. Well, personally, I’m never sure about the age these images want to show. It seems to me like they blend the old and the new. Isn’t that what words are all about? Being timeless?
It is quite interesting to see the evolution of Dropbox illustrations. Jon Ying started this journey with stick figures which, at that time, was a radical decision to take.
And then the rest of the trip has seen work by many a fantastic designers.
One of the most revolutionary changes brought in illustration styles is probably by Mailchimp. They dumped the adorable and colourful look, and chose to express themselves in two primary colours – yellow and black – with illustrations that seem to be of the most whimsical kind. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.
What does Mailchimp has to say about the twist in their look?
“We want to show our customers that building a successful business means staying true to yourself. With this brand identity and design system, we hope to inspire them to be bold and creative with their own brands.”
Can’t disagree with them. We love the new look, especially the animation on their homepage.
Trello is one of those brands who have introduced a mascot to seal their identity in people’s hearts. The logo was enough for the minds but a pet as cute as Taco was definitely targeted at our emotional junction.
Last but not the least comes our guardian angel Google. Be it Google Doodle or Calendar or Jamboard, Google never fails to make us smile with its illustrations.
Take Google Goals for example. By showing us illustrations of people achieving their goals, Google motivates us to do the same for our own lazy selves. Do you think it would have had the same impact had there been only icons and texts or photos of people? Well, we both know the answer, don’t we?
And So We Know…
The keywords for modern illustrations include:
When people on one end of the website find people on the other end instead of bots, it helps them to connect, and makes the experience memorable. So, who’s remembered here ultimately? Your brand is! You are!
Still need more reasons to invest in illustrations?