The tech business's favorite illustration style

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Vinh writes in the linked article:
“it’s worth comparing this range with the kind of illustration we see in digital products. For some time now, I’ve been collecting screen shots of illustration usage in apps, web sites and related collateral…”

I submit that this style is redolent of and still influenced by the flattist pastel-y images that Adobe Flash tended to produce and that hence proliferated in early-to-mid web history. Flash is discontinued but still, I suspect, casts its shadow (or lack of shadow!) over web imagery generally, and this is a manifestation of same. Just my $0.02.


Great point.

You often see artists trying to bend safety minimalism to express a retro flatness, like we might associate with mid-century advertising and animation, which it coincidentally resembles. But something always snaps it back to the present day.


Animation is another reason this style has become very popular. Clean, layered vectors and shapes with minimal detail makes everything easier to translate from Illustrator to AfterEffects and add movement. Many corporate style guides call for this type of illustration as well, not just tech, but banking and insurance and many other sectors.

Also, if you’re a corporation and want to establish a consistent style, clean vector drawings like this is something that almost any illustrator or designer can do well. Most other illustration styles bring in more of the illustrator’s personal style and are harder to replicate across campaigns.


The proliferation of Bootstrap, and more recently Material Design, probably has something to do with this as well. Aside from sites which make heavy use photographs, the illustrated ones tend to be of a similar style which fits in well with those two design frameworks, more of that same aesthetic @moosemalloy was talking about.

I see a lot of Chris Ware influence as well (minus the depression).


The style predates Flash and Bootstrap. I first noticed it in Peachpit Press books in the early 1990’s (at the time, very Mac-centric).

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Good catch. In addition, I can’t dismiss the feeling that the aesthetic of “South Park” (perhaps matured into that of Saul Bass as the illustrators aged) has also had some small influence on this style.


the vector aspect is key, and what makes it flexible is scalability and the ability to add and remove elemnts for different formats. you can have a desktop, mobile version, postcard, billboard, pocket folder, subway ad, etc…all from a single source without messing up shapes or gradients.

it’s attractive to tech culture in this way because it seems to promise to eliminate human effort, and speaks to a kind of DRY/OOP version of graphic design where the expensive and difficult part is done once and everything else is inheritance, and iteration. plus you can easily encode it in into svg, converting it (breaking it like a wild stallion?) from mysterious art into comforting math…


This almost certainly has a level of validity to it. For one, a lot of the people who are doing those graphics now were teenagers when Flash was new and the sort of flat, basically object-oriented imagery was “new” and cool.


As someone who works with creating this stuff, I can tell you that vector is just so much easier to work with, when size changes are easy and unlimited and colour changes take moments. Also, budgets for buying this art, if that is the route taken, will be somewhere in the range of $10 (and I’ve worked for billion dollar companies) and this is what you get for $10.

If I was required to actually create the art (and I’m not actually an Illustrator) the time allotted for an initial finished work would be between 10 minutes and an hour. Endless tweaking would happen after, but the art wouldn’t change significantly from the first iteration to get approval.


I tend to agree: low effort vector art will always look similar just because of the tool itself and the works flow it promotes. Kind of the same way that low effort computer animation all looks the same, or low effort charcoal rubs all look the same, etc etc.


Everybody wants to be Mark @frauenfelder!

I make this kind of stuff all the time… I’ve definitely noticed the trend toward simplified, 2D line art, but I wouldn’t chalk it up to anything beyond a trend. Five years ago business advertising was more 3d, wizz-bang type stuff… remember “kinetic type”?

Usually the client gives you a bunch of references and they just want you to copy them, so it’s not hard to explain how the look proliferates.

Like @Robertor said, the trend has been toward animation or “motion graphics” and the 2d illustrated look suits that really nicely. It’s really hard and expensive to animate people, so making them as simple as possible, or only including hands or objects is a strategic decision. They are also crazy about failing to portray diversity, so may opt to remove all images of people, or make them as generic as possible…


I see a lot of Chris Ware influence as well (minus the depression).

Now you’ve got me imagining major tech websites done by Chris Ware with the depression. What a miserable, miserable world it could be…


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