11/05/21

Illustrations: the latest trend in impactful branding

By Andrea Tovar

Most of us are familiar with the concept of illustrations; visual imagery often found in books, magazines and so on. More recently they have begun appearing in more and more places, such as mobile applications and websites. 

This has made illustrations powerful tools that explain concepts beyond what language can offer – and branding is no exception. Nowadays it isn’t unusual to see them as part visual identities, being a secondary sister to photography to represent our brands. In this article, we explore the what, why and how behind this new trend.

Illustrations explain concepts / talabat Illustration / home delivery
Illustrations explain concepts / talabat Illustration / home delivery

What are brand illustrations?

In branding, our aim is to make everything a form of communication. We orchestrate a cohesive environment in which logo, colour scheme and typography can connect and bring us closer to our customers. However, before we could write, we drew. Drawings were our first communication method – we might even say it is our first mother tongue – and our brains processes images faster and more efficiently than text does. Knowing this, illustrations can be far more powerful than any text can and allow us to explain concepts, add personality and influence. Therefore, as mentioned previously, more and more brands have adopted illustrations as core elements in their visual communication toolbox. These brand illustrations have been constructed and stylised to reflect core branding values and fit the rest of the elements. 

Now we’ve added some context, some examples might pop into your head of big brands taking their illustration game up a notch. Slack uses illustrations on their website as well as in the app. Shopify and Paypal are other big examples.

More and more brands are using illustrations / Paypal / website

Why use them?

Illustrations make your brand more human

As explained before, our brains are wired to understand images. Not only that, but illustrated images convey emotion and add character that we are able to translate in a matter of seconds. We know already that when we draw expressions on characters we are communicating emotion, plus adding a human touch and evoking empathy. But going beyond this, even a simple brush stroke can be translated differently depending on the style and the intention. A doodle-like brush can be translated as personal and vibrant, whereas an isometric brush can convey tidiness. 

It is intentional that more and more brands are opting for illustrated log-in pages or empty states; they make these small interactions friendlier and closer to the customer. 

Illustrations convey emotions / talabat illustrations / character expressions

Illustrations make a great impact

Illustrations are the innate storytelling tool, adding value and forming a bond between our brand and our customers through storytelling. The influence of illustrations can integrate well into the branding narrative you are building. Moreover, illustrations can help simple ideas transmit complex messages; a well developed illustration system can exponentially amplify the spectrum of your messages and introduce a narrative to the brand.

Illustrations reflect your brand / C’Bon illustrations and communications

Illustration systems are versatile and accessible

In photography we take into account lighting, scenery and the overall intention of what is portrayed in each picture. However, more often than not we find that the perfect picture might not be one size fits all. Each market is different, each audience is different. Because of this, adaptation and flexibility is hard to achieve – but that is not the case for illustrations. 

Here in the brand team, when we create an illustration system we take into consideration most – if not all – the possibilities that an illustrated character, food or scenery can have. We invision change, versatility and adaptability that remains aligned to the branding. Illustrations become a reachable and effective ally to adaptation.  

Illustrations are eye-catching  

Humans are visual beings; according to the medical researcher Richard Fixott, two thirds of the activity of our brain is dedicated to vision when our eyes are open. When we load a website, our eyes will immediately be drawn to the illustrative media to understand the concept before reading the text. In fact, people learn faster when illustrations are present. 

Furthermore, with the speedy consumption of media of the latest years, users scroll through websites faster than before, making illustrations a handy and eye-catching resource to send messages.

How to incorporate illustrations into a branding project

Now, how do we use illustrations, and how do we ensure they are sending the right message and reflect our brands in the best way? Illustrations are effective if used correctly, but poorly conceived illustrations can cause users to misunderstand your message, or portray your brand incorrectly.

Before, we used the term ‘illustration system’, which isn’t so different to brand illustrations; in fact, an illustration system is a conceptualised, crafted and unique style inherited to the overall brand. 

Below are a few key steps that we’ve applied when conceiving illustration systems for our brands:


Create a visual language

All our brands are unique and because of this, we don’t go far seeking for inspiration: we sit down and look at our brand. What makes it stand out? We take these elements and combine them into ideas that can be translated into illustrations.

For example, in talabat, we were inspired by the letter “t” in the logotype and the brand devices. We took that mix of geometric shapes and flourish touches to construct characters and elements as an illustration system.

talabat character construction

With HungerStation, the hunger path, connectors and bright colours drove and powered the whole system. The result was a consistent geometrical illustration style that connected the user to the HungerStation brand and personality.

Hungerstation / illustration construction 

Have a clear purpose

Once we figure out the style, we set down intentions – known as principles – on where and when the illustrations would live. Illustration principles set the foundation of the system and all the applications that will later come and are as important as the guidelines themselves, because they allow the tone of the communications to remain consistent and attached to the brand. Are we flexible? Are we bold in our communications? Is it aligned to what the brand already communicates? All of these questions are answered in the illustration system principles. 

talabat / illustration principles

Be consistent

Last but not least, we review what makes our illustration unique. We choose and designate the elements, constructions, colours, shapes and forms that will make up the different illustrations we will design. Is there a set of strokes that work best? Let’s opt to use it throughout what we illustrate. Is there a common shape within the branding that works in illustration? Let’s select those and use them consistently. Do we need an extra set of colours for our illustrations? Let’s build these while remaining true to our brand colours. All decisions are written down and form the guidelines that make these illustrations a system. 

In this case study, you can see talabat’s illustration system being laid down.

Hungerstation / illustrations guidelines
C’bon illustrations

We hope this article has shown you how illustrations:

  • Make a brand identity stronger
  • Explain complex ideas
  • Add human touch
  • Serve as visual communicators

And much more! Thank you for reading, and don’t forget – if used in a consistent manner, they will support your brand to deliver solutions while aiming higher.