There's been lots of talk lately about design systems taking the place of design jobs. Eeek! This may seem daunting, but don't run just yet! Only time will tell!

One thing is for certain ... design tools are evolving, and the internet is more beautiful than ever! A big part is due to the variety of art and design used by companies, and the understanding that every company needs a brand/personality to engage with their audience ... and using art to get there is key.

Smart companies wield a valuable tool: Illustration and storytelling

Google
Dropbox
Gems
Slack
Wealthfront
We also do this at fly.io (where I work to draw sentient balloons!)

Fly is a global application platform that makes your apps super duper fast. To convey this to our users, we use clean type, bright colors, and a friendly hotair balloon who zips around our superfly world. I'll break down why we chose to do this, why it's working, and how you can do it for your brand.

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Functional typography and obvious calls to action help users get where they want faster in your app. Beautiful colors that compliment each other and guide the user are another example of a key design strategy, and one that Kyle, our superfly designer, regularly implements in his work. He also riffs on some of our keywords, such as friendly and fast by using design elements that are easy on the eye and convey speed. To show movement, we use elements like curves and waves, plus complimentary colors like purple and blue seem to actually move together in our ombre details.

These same elements translate into my illustrations. Specific line work conveys lightness or heaviness. Character expressions and facial features show who and how someone might interact with the product. This is my job (and I kinda love it ;)) and to get there I ask a series of questions.

Let's back up a second and talk about why these questions matter

Thinking about how your customer experiences your product will help you work out the kinks, so they can easily and enjoyably engage with your product. They do this on several levels: physical, mental, and emotional. In the software world -- where we're reading text all day and we tend to get lost in a sea of docs and terminals -- emotional connection can feel like it's lacking a bit ... I mean ... you can only feel so much toward a font and negative space, ammirite? This is where artistic design elements come in and can really make all the difference. Soft colors can lighten a load. A friendly cartoon face is warmly welcomed. More so, expressions on these cartoon faces are interpreted into meaning, guiding their understanding of the product. Think about emojis and how they've become part of our language. In our pre-smart phone days, texting "Sure." could come off apathetic. Smiley's change everythang. :)

sure

We relate to the things that mirror our own world -- like faces, cars, hot dogs -- and in turn, attribute emotional meaning to them because we have our own emotional index we pull from. When we see characters interacting and expressing emotion, our brains connect to them. We relate. That character’s values become our values. Their joy becomes our joy.

Lemme show you what I mean ...

Here are two different pieces of media that we experience emotionally on different planes:

I can't. Stop. Watching this video from Jaime xx. There are no expressions. The dancers move along in unique choreography. The setting is recognizable but devoid of inhabitants. It's weird, but so cool. My mind tries to make meaning from the pieces it's been given, and it does, but in a formulaic and metaphorical way.

But it didn't make me viscerally feel anything. You know what did? Coco. It's an animated movie so none of the characters are real, yet, as viewers, we are able to connect with them emotionally ... almost like they're family. When Miguel sings, "Remember Me" to his Abuela Coco at the end? I bawl.

Ok, let's get back on track ...

Emotional meaning is subjective. But there are commonalities amongst us all because we share similar experiences like family, loss, accomplishment, joy, etc. When we touch on these fundamental emotions, we can usually hit the mark for 96.89% of people (that's #AnnieScience right there). Basically, Disney and Pixar are doing something right. So is Jamie xx. But does it reach people in the same way? Nope, it's more narrow.

What if we utilized both types of creation? Functional, clean, interesting design, and an emotional character that’s unforgettable ... that's what this is all about, folks! That's where the icing meets the cake!

Wanna try this with me?

Let's ask some questions:

What if Starbucks had a character attached to it? How can we riff on the current design and brand, and add a human element to it?

starbucks-og

  • Who is our audience?
  • How do we want them to feel about the brand?
  • What are we asking them to do?
  • What are some key words about the brand?

Some example answers:

  • These folks are coffee drinkers: moms, artists, bankers, uncles, everyone!
  • Customers think the brand is delicious and trendy.
  • We want them to lust after it- gotta have a Frappuccino stat!
  • Modern, delicious, kind, for everyone.

We're starting to paint a picture, dontcha think?

starbucks2

We've added characters who exemplify the quintessential Starbucks experience. The original image even toyed with emotion by adding the smile to "happy hour". You can get pretty creative here ... so run with it!

Now apply this to your brand. Take these questions and answers back to the drawing board. Who is your mascot? How are they sharing your product with the world?

Well, that's just about it! I hope this inspires you to have fun and engage with your community in a new way with illustration. Does your company already have a mascot or use illustration to tell your story? I'd love to see! Send me a tweet and let's share inspiration.

Want to see more of this in action? Checkout fly.io and see the results of me asking these questions of our brand and our community. Shameless plug: You should also try it out and optimize your website, like I did with mine!