Brands can use a distinct illustrative style to distinguish themselves from the competition, marking themselves as unique and creative in their sphere.
Building an illustration system is a tried and tested way to enrich a brand’s visual language and say more nuanced things that a logo, colour scheme, typeface, or even words cannot convey alone.
Illustration-led branding campaigns continue to attract and enthral customers, and here are some recent examples of illustrations that distinguish their brands from the crowd.
Headspace was one of the first successful apps to bring mindfulness and meditation to our mobile phones and was co-founded in 2010 by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe.
Their branding features bold, colourful illustrations that summarise what the brand is all about – joy and accessibility. When Headspace first appeared on the scene, meditation was still seen as something that only the most spiritual individuals wanted to get involved with.
Still, the bright colours and broad smiles of the illustrations used throughout their service and promotional materials show that meditation can be for anyone and everyone.
Even if you haven’t tried to fumble your way through ordering a beer on holiday guided by the teachings of a little green owl, you’re probably familiar with Duolingo. The language learning app is fronted by Duo, a clever multi-lingual owl that offers over 100 total courses across over 40 distinct languages.
Duolingo brings affordable language learning to countries worldwide, and the branding needs to be accessible and universally appealing.
The duo was joined by a cast of other characters in the colourful illustrative style and has also been openly embraced by internet meme culture.
The simple monochrome illustrations that adorn the cans and cartons of Minor Figure’s plant-based drinks have become so iconic that they’ve found themselves on a range of limited edition clothing. The simple line drawings depict non-descript people going about their daily lives, doing normal things and taking pleasure in the mundane. It’s a stark contrast to the inspirational and aspirational marketing that is favoured by similar products.
“We’re not that brand that’s like, ‘get up and rise and grind. You can crush it, go out and do it,’ and all these puke-ridden motivational and aspirational brands”, says Stuart Forsyth, co-founder and CEO of Minor Figures. “Our brand name and the characters on our packaging are all about celebrating humble lives rather than celebrating success… we’re, you know, the non-hero.”
Airbnb has gone through several styles of branding illustration before settling on the current iteration. The company found itself under fire over allegations of racism by their users and vowed to create a more inclusive environment for everyone.
This is reflected in the branding illustrations they have chosen, depicting a variety of ages, races and social groups. This sharply contrasts their previous campaigns, which featured purposely vague illustrations.
“The most insightful part of my research phase was gathering opinions from my coworkers,” said Experience Design Manager of Product Illustration at Airbnb Jennifer Hom, “Many of the critiques called for a less bubbly aesthetic, but there was one key insight from my Black, Asian, Latinx, and Middle Eastern coworkers that struck me: “It doesn’t represent me.” Their thoughts resonated deeply—they reflect my experience as an Asian American woman who grew up not seeing myself reflected in the world.”
Mailchimp began life as an email utility for small businesses and has expanded over the years to a fully formed marketing platform. They’ve recently undergone a makeover to add a distinctive illustrative style to their framework. The quirky hand-drawn style of the illustrations is a nod to the freeform nature of Mailchimp’s toolset.
The Mailchimp in the logo is Freddie, who has been part of their branding since day one. He wasn’t always as recognisable as he is now the Mailchimp wordmark has been added.