The importance of illustration in UX design

Written by HannahM: Junior Digital Designer.
· 4 minute read

The well-know worldwide phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is to this day still getting more shades of meaning with human progress. It’s a known fact that people get attached with visual images faster than with copy. It’s what draws the user into the articles and who can blame them? We are brought up to learn by picture books. I for one was a fond favourite of delving into the realms of fantasy with the captivating adventures by Roald Dahl. From marvellous but wacky chocolate factories with everlasting gobstoppers and Oompa-lommpas to peaches that grow to create a new world of adventures and friendship for a little boy. This stays with us as we grow up but with a more sophisticated appeal, whilst secretly missing the chilling adventures that Roald Dahl still holds.

Not unlike children books, original illustrations evoke new meanings and spark insights by the coming together of words and illustrations. Which intern contributes to user interfaces being one of the most popular and solid design trends there is.

The term “illustration” origins for the Latin “illustrare” which meaning is to light up, illuminate, explain, which is what good illustrations aim to do. Good UX illustration is at first a form of communication aimed to create a friendly and reliable guide to lead the user through the task at hand. Married with the correct copy, illustration can highlight the importance of a step, or convey a unique message at a glance that will be understood by the relevant audience. It has to be clear and transfer the needed message properly. Illustration works especially well when your service is relatively complex.

Originality and artistic balance

Illustrations add a touch of style and creativity to a web page, whether that be through a hero image, a notification or system message, a mascot or characters, or just through an infographic. In a world of consistent and tough competition, it’s vital to make an impression. By representing your brand through illustrations, it’s giving your brand an original and fun personality.

Designers can create a perfect and most importantly unmistakable personal illustration using brand colour schemes and characters that would effectively appeal to the pool of readers. Rather than using a generic image off a stock site that users have seen a thousand times before. Let’s face it, how many times have you seen the fake handshakes? The fake business meetings? We’ve seen them. So if you’re trying to make your brand stand out, why represent your brand in that way? Standing out is the key, which when done effectively can create huge benefits.


Visual triggers to get to the message

Let’s face it, we live in a world of skim readers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just we have to increase the visual performance to entice users to the article or web page in the first place. The theory behind illustration on websites is to provide the user with a piece of information faster and easier than it could happen with text. If the user does not understand the illustration, there is no reason to have it. The aim is to engage the user and allow strong messages to be translated faster through imagery.

Psychologists now claim people need about 1/10 of a second to get a general perception of a visual scene or element which is a lot faster than copy alone. As illustrations are more universal, it can be used more widely for people from different countries. Along with helping users that may be dyslexic. With the overall benefit of the characters, colours, composition, and recognisable details quickly informing users and support the message given in the textual form.

Creative storytelling

To put it simply, storytelling in a creative field is to take the user on the journey the designer sets. By using illustrations in design, the journey is a more pleasant and enjoyable experience. The pain points in a journey such as the error messages, final purchase and confirmation screens and loading screens are excellent examples of where when illustrations are in the mix, the journey seems less dreaded. An emotional connection is forged between the user and the product, making them more trusting of the journey and more willing to forgive any errors the site may behold.


Animated short videos and interactive elements

A great way to enhance the emotional appeal and elegance of a site is through animation in user interfaces. Through animated logos, characters or icons. It’s used more and more each day, and for good reason. This hot design trend adds power to the message and mood of the site. It brings the personal touch into digital environments and creates an engaging and appealing user experience. One they will remember.

Memorable and catchy

Being memorable is what you want from your site surely? Images have a tendency to stick in the long-term more than text. So why not give it a go?

Tip: Points to consider

As great as illustrations are in UX design, like with everything there are things to keep in mind:

Target audience (age, cultural background and educational level).
Level of distraction the illustration will take away from other things.
The environment that it will be used.

Illustrations create a wider perspective of storytelling in the interfaces. More and more companies are turning to specially designed characters showing the story, setting the atmosphere or presenting the benefits in the way that corresponds to the mood, tone, and voice of the platform.

Original characters used along with animation create a human-like approach and set strong associations with the real world. With the countless inspiration platforms like Pinterest and Dribble, designers get regularly updated with the latest on how versatile illustration can be. Any element of the interface should be purposeful and functional in improving usability.

If you’re interested in learning how you can incorporate illustration into your designs, don’t hesitate to contact us!