How and When to Use Illustrations for Your Business

You’ve stumbled across new business and are interested in learning more. You get to their website and see a huge wall of text — now what?

If you’re like most people, you may scroll through and skim the content. Or you might even forget about your interest in learning more and give up. Even if you’re still interested at this point, you probably won’t be thrilled to read through paragraphs and paragraphs of text. But how else will the business relay their information to you?

Thankfully for the average consumer, most businesses realize the importance of visualization in relaying information. A single picture can say more than even paragraphs of text can in less than a second — in fact, the human brain can process entire images in as little as 13 milliseconds.

But how exactly should you use images for your business? And how will you know when to use illustration over photography?

Why is it that some businesses rely heavily on photography, whereas others mostly utilize illustrations?

Let’s start off by looking at some companies that heavily rely on illustrations.

DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean is a cloud computing platform built for developers. Their website heavily utilizes illustrations, and you can view additional illustration assets used across their marketing resources.

While not as prevalent, they still use photography, as shown here when referencing joining the DigitalOcean team.

MailChimp

Mailchimp is an email marketing platform. While the majority of their website utilizes illustrations and icons, we can see they use photography here when referencing an individual.

We see this again when they reference another individual (in this case, presenting it as being you, the viewer).

In the above examples, we can see that illustration is used to:

  • Convey an abstract message or idea that otherwise would be difficult to present through a photograph.
  • Accentuate a specific point of a corresponding text-based message.
  • Add personality and style while staying consistent with the brand.

We can also see that photography is used to:

  • Reference the website viewer
  • Get the website viewer to imagine themselves performing a certain action, such as joining the company or receiving value from their service.

Let’s now look at some other companies that heavily rely on photographs.

Airbnb

Besides some icons used sparingly (shown below), AirBNB relies entirely on photographs. This makes sense, as AirBNB presents in-person, offline experiences that can best be portrayed through photographs.

Besides some icons used sparingly (shown below), Airbnb relies entirely on photographs. This makes sense, as Airbnb presents in-person, offline experiences that can best be portrayed through photographs.

Apple

Apple’s website is used primarily to showcase it’s products, which are all physical devices. As such, utilizing photographs on its website, besides a few icons shown below, makes sense.

In the above examples, we can also see that photography is used to:

  • Showcase experiences or products that define the business
  • Make it clear to the viewer what the business does or offers in cases where the product or service is not abstract or difficult for the average viewer to understand.

We can see that illustration is used to:

  • Add visuals in a space that may be too small for a photograph.
  • Accentuate a message or title that would be ineffective without a visual aid.

Using the above examples, we can deduce that photographs are primarily used to allow the website viewer to imagine themselves performing certain non-abstract actions, to present an offline service, or to showcase a physical product.

Illustrations, on the other hand, are often used to visualize abstract messages or ideas, highlight points, and add personality. Whether you use a photograph or an illustration will depend on what purpose you need to fulfil.

Examples of when illustrations can be used

Here are some examples of when illustrations can be used for your business.

Explaining abstract ideas or concepts

Which better relays the value that MailChimp can provide to your business?

This:

Or this:

Which makes you more interested in reading and absorbing the information presented? Illustrations draw you into the page and entice you to read the text presented next to them.

Onboarding

There’s a lot of information you want to provide users when they sign up for or get started with your service.

Illustrations engage the user while they navigate the flow, and reduce the likelihood that they may proceed without absorbing important information from each part of the onboarding process.

Illustrations engage the user while they navigate the flow, and reduce the likelihood that they may proceed without absorbing important information from each part of the onboarding process.

Quick Navigation & Comprehension

Previously, we displayed a screenshot from Airbnb’s website in which they used icons. With the included illustrated icons, the viewer is able to easily comprehend what each section is about without reading the entire paragraph (or even the title). Think of this icon as a supplement to aiding the reader’s comprehension.

This is more apparent when we compare what this section looks like with and without the icons.

Without Icons:

With Icons:

Not only does the inclusion of icons aid the viewer in their comprehension, it also makes the section more visually appealing and inviting to read.

Other Ways To Use Illustrations

Use illustrations when you want to visualize data, tell a story, or if the subject is too difficult to include in a photograph.

Here are some specific additional ideas to get you started:

  • Include illustrations in blog posts to add some excitement to your messages while effectively relaying your message.
  • Use an illustration at the top of your email message.
  • Include illustrations in your social media posts.
  • Create infographics.

An effective illustration

Now that you know when to use an illustration for your business, how exactly will you know what to illustrate?

What should an effective illustration contain? There are an infinite number of ways to approach the creation of an illustration. Here are some tips.

The Purpose

Before creating any sketches, determine the purpose of the illustration. Do you want to represent an abstract idea? Do you want to accentuate a specific point?

Fulfilling The Purpose

Once you’ve determined the purpose of the illustration, determine what specific points will need to be highlighted in the illustration, and refrain from including details that may distract from those specific points. It’s easy to make the illustration look too busy, and with extraneous details, your message may become lost in the noise.

Take this specific illustration from Mailchimp’s home page. To portray the message of “grow customer love”, they focused explicitly on this idea - so much so that they did not include anything that did not relate to “grow customer love”.

Take this specific illustration from Mailchimp’s home page. To portray the message of “grow customer love”, they focused explicitly on this idea – so much so that they did not include anything that did not relate to “grow customer love”.

We can tell that these are people and that one of them is larger, with the squiggly body showing change and growth. The illustrator didn’t need to include unique bodies, faces, or hair, and didn’t include any background – they focused entirely on “grow customer love”.

Staying Within Your Brand

Your illustration should stay within your brand guidelines. What are your colors? Is your brand playful, serious, extreme? The above illustration from Mailchimp would not work well for Wells Fargo for example.

Getting Started

While there are many resources for free professional photography, such as Barnimages, you may be wondering how and where you can find illustrations to use for your business.

If you’re not a designer yourself, you may think the only way to get illustrations is to hire a freelancer or design agency, or use standard icons that are unlikely to perfectly match your brand. These are fine options for those with the finances to do so, but what if you’re just starting out or your budget is small?

With Delesign’s free customizable illustrations, this no longer a problem. Browse through thousands of high quality illustrations that are free to use for your business. They’re 100% free, royalty free and can even be fully customized to match your business’s style.

In addition to personalized illustrations and icons, Delesign also provides free website, email, social media, branding, and print design templates.

Now that you know when to use illustration, make the most of it!

Kenny Schumacher
Kenny Schumacher

Kenny is the founder of Delesign - a flat rate graphic design service helping hundreds of businesses. When he's not working, he enjoys staying active and playing with his parrot Mango. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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