Custom illustrations are being increasingly seen in web design as a way of making your site stand out, show abstract concepts, and give it an individual feel. As illustrations begin to take centre stage and designers move away from paid for stock imagery on web platforms we decided to try and explore some of the trends showing up in 2018.
This trend may well have been a result of the retro/nostalgic vibe that you have probably noticed over the past year. With the throwbacks to the 80s and 90s in the fashion and film world, we have seen bright bold palettes and patterns pour onto our screens and into our illustrations. Clashing colours with abstract shapes create both nostalgia, fun and energy in illustrations. A great example of this is Ana Jaks images for the Facebook ‘House of Us’ event.
Illustration doesn’t always mean leaving photography behind completely. Photo collage can pair realism with textures, bold colours and even hand drawn elements to give an image greater interest and impact. Photographs can become surreal, fun or quirky with some minor manipulation. This can be great for use in brochure or marketing sites, where images of the product, or lifestyle shots can be merged and edited to create a more playful feel with added personality. Illustrator Oli Fowler created a set of eye catching visuals for the Museums of London. Use of old photographs, ephemera and textures created a distinctly punk vibe that felt uniquely like London.
As screen quality improves, and tablet technology becomes better and more affordable, illustrators are increasingly finding ways of replicating effects digitally that they would have previously only have been able to achieve using traditional media. Unlike traditional tools, digital images, when constructed well, can be duplicated and edited to create endless iterations until they are just right, without having to start fresh or waste materials. As styluses and screens continue to improve, illustrators will continue to streamline and innovate in how they construct their images, which will inevitably affect their style. This year we have seen increased use of gradients and textured brushes to give digital images a printed or painterly feel. A great example of this is Chinese Illustrator Samuel Chen, who’s work is created digitally, but uses the above techniques to create work which looks like it could have been created traditionally.
In the wake of #Metoo, greater social awareness and embracing of diversity, some brands want to keep that human touch without targeting a specific body shape, gender or age. In response, human depictions in illustrations have to some extent bounced away from the modelesque fashion illustration and opted for more inclusive humanoid figures, often based on simple or geometric shapes, ensuring these figures stay relatable but non-specific. Use of unrealistic colours also helps to generate greater diversity. One example of this is the work of the design team at Shopify. The characters have unrealistic proportions and skin colours which complement the brand colour palette so they are less specific to an individual.
Flat illustration has been around for a while and though it isn’t going anywhere due to ease and speed in which it can be created - it is evolving. In the digital-meeting-traditional trend we touched on how textures and gradients are adding depth to digital images, and this is especially true in flat design, however there is also an increase in the use of animation and flat clean artwork lends itself to this beautifully. Subtle animation and movement can make sites and apps feel that little bit more playful; they help to emphasis and highlight subject matter and can even make sites more intuitive for users with understated nudges and prompts. The former is certainly true for online publications who are making great use of animated illustrations. Illustrator Robin Davey regularly contributes quirky gifs to WIRED Italia and other publications.