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How illustration adds Emotion To UX
Website Design

How illustration adds Emotion To UX 

From 45,000-year-old cave paintings to 21st-century space rocket diagrams, illustration has long played a significant role in human communication.

Pictures cross-language and literacy barriers, allowing people to understand and communicate complex moods and feelings that they cannot in words. When we were little, we could understand and appreciate E.H. Shepard’s illustrations of Winnie the Pooh and friends long before we could read A.A. Milne’s words.

The word ‘to illustrate’ has two main meanings: to create a picture of; and to demonstrate or provide an example of. In the context of the web, illustration is part decoration, part emotional signal, helping to create a particular impression to the user by painting a metaphorical picture.

Why use illustrations on a website?

Illustrations provide a useful shorthand means to convey mood or tone, the voice of a brand.

You could argue that icons are illustrations because they are pictorial, but they are symbols. Icons may, and usually should, fit stylistically with illustrations, but they are not illustrations themselves. A symbol is a simplified representation of an object, idea, or action. For example, ‘search’ is usually represented by a magnifying glass shape.

Illustrations, on the other hand, are more complex. They transmit an underlying emotional quality that connects with the intended audience. Illustrations can create a narrative about the subject without the need to add more text. It gives even the most basic, functional website a sense of personality when used properly.

Popular types of Illustration online

Illustration styles are many and varied, ranging from simple outlines to detailed, full color, realistic images. And the amount of illustration used varies greatly across sites.

Different styles evoke different feelings and provoke different responses, so it is important to think carefully when choosing an illustration style. There are two major factors to consider: what the site is for and what sort of character do you want to give it.

It is possible to break things down into broad categories to see what works best in different areas. We’re going to look at how designers can use illustration to good effect across four categories…

Financial & corporate

Financial services, fintech, enterprise software, and larger corporate sites tend to use illustration as a way to humanize themselves.

The style tends to be minimal, using simple shapes and sparingly.

This creates a feel typical of newer companies, especially those that are primarily web-based.

Longer established, more traditional organizations use an illustration for the same purposes, although they may be restricted to certain areas only, where they want to emphasize approachability. Danske Bank, for example (founded in 1871), has illustrations on its corporate site in the ‘About’ and ‘Sustainability’ sections.

Another increasingly popular approach in this category is abstract graphics. This is particularly useful when it is difficult to show what is being promoted.

One of the key points with illustration in these types of sites is getting the balance right between friendly, human and approachable on the one hand and serious, trustworthy, and secure on the other. Get too cutesy, and potential customers won’t take you seriously. Github’s enterprise page does have some illustrations, but the color is less vivid, and Octocat is only alluded to, unlike the home page which is illustration-rich.

Food & drink

Things get a little freer when it comes to food and drink. Styles vary much more, and the personality conveyed can be stronger and more individual. Some still go for a light peppering of illustration, with aspects such as color and type made stronger, while in other cases, the illustration becomes much more prominent.

Hospitality & leisure

In this category, what users really want to see is photographs, but illustration can help too. A photograph can only show what something looks like, while illustration can add the extra emotional dimension connected to an experience.

The responsible web

Sites promoting ethical and or sustainable companies, natural skincare, natural and/or organic food and drink, vegan products, social responsibility, and so forth tend to rely heavily on illustration, particularly if they are reasonably new.

Quite often, this is in the form of plant drawings that make a lazy allusion to nature, but it can also involve conveying information in a way that doesn’t come across as lecturing.

Using the illustration on the web

Illustration can be a powerful tool in a designer’s arsenal, but it can be difficult to get right because it invokes emotion, and emotion is subjective.

Just like type or color, it needs to be used appropriately and with care. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes getting the placement absolutely right can make the difference between a successful design and a flop.

This is just a selection of the wide range of illustration styles and usages out there on the web, but we hope it will give you a starting point when you are considering whether and how to use illustrations in your next project.

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