Why do tech companies love illustration?

It's caught our attention of late that more and more of the big names in tech are turning to illustration to tell their stories. Whether it's to explain a new product or redefine a brand identity, everyone, from Google to Dropbox, is recognising the power of illustration to connect with their audience.

As a recent article by 99U points out, it could be seen as strange that those in the business of driving forward the technology of the future are attracted to a form of communication that dates back to the days of the caveman. So why does illustration have such impact when it comes to talking about tech?

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illustration MAKEs TECHNOLOGY TANGIBLE

Perhaps this is an obvious point, but many of the products and processes that tech companies create are invisible.

And so, as Scriberia's creative director, Dan, notes: 'There's a visual void that needs filling before new technology can become meaningful to the majority of us. A huge part of designing user experience is establishing a visual identity for the intangible stuff that's going on, quite literally behind the science, to make it navigable and comprehensible.'

For our scribes - who have scribed and illustrated for the likes of Google, Dropbox and IBM - the challenge often lies in developing a visual vocabulary that sufficiently simplifies and makes tangible intangible concepts like blockchain, cloud computing and cyber security.

'When so much of our work tells the stories of a digital age, we're constantly faced with the problem of avoiding drawing another person at a laptop or on a phone,' says Dan. 'The illustrator has to push past that and somehow show the meaning of that interaction rather than the interaction itself. It would get incredibly boring otherwise.

Illustration doesn’t have to be literal. It allows you to give form to the invisible and blend the real world with the metaphorical.
— Dan Porter, creative director, Scriberia

'Fortunately, illustration doesn't have to be literal. It allows you to give form to the invisible and blend the real world with the metaphorical. It can create a sense of place where no place exists - environments to explore and journeys to go on that can represent the screen-bound reality in far more engaging ways.’

Meg Robichauld, illustration lead at Shopify, says: 'If you want to exaggerate the benefits of a product, and drive home how powerful a tool is, that's something illustration is really good at. At the end of the day, illustration is just another communication tool, but it's a great way to persuade people to love the weird little thing that your product does, while explaining it at the same time.'


ILLUSTRATION IS HUMANISING

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When Dropbox were starting out, they didn't have the resources to pay for a professional illustrator to work on their website. Jon Ying, 'Black Ops' lead, who doesn't consider himself an illustrator, ended up drawing a picture to accompany a blog post about software bugs; a simple, hand-drawn sketch that saw a stick man chasing after a bug, Dropbox logo in hand.

The team pondered whether they dared post the picture, acknowledging that users are fickle, and it's amateurish quality could cost the company. Eventually they clicked 'post', because, as illustration lead, Michael Jeter, puts it: 'Jon believed simple universal drawings connected on a human level and inspired empathy when things might not be working right. He believed it could even help retain customers through some tough times.'

Simple universal drawings connected on a human level and inspired empathy when things might not be working right.
— Michael Jeter, Dropbox

And Jon Ying can recall a time when one of his illustrations did just that: 'I made a drawing for an email campaign sent to people that recently downgraded from Dropbox Pro. The image we made was a weeping PC with a thought bubble with a broken heart inside. People started writing in and tweeting to apologise for hurting us by leaving. Many even resubscribed.'

For a company dealing with something as abstract and intangible as cloud storage, illustration has really helped Dropbox to humanise their product and lend it some personality. From day one, they've seen the value in gently reminding their audience that there's a team of passionate people (with a good sense of humour, too) behind the product; a message that has helped to preserve their good relations with customers through inevitable technical glitches and failures. 

Dan adds: 'The best illustration is a complex and subtle combination of decisions - colours, shapes, textures, marks, observations and influences - that makes its point clearly, but with an element of surprise and idiosyncrasy. As such, it's the perfect counterbalance to automation. It sends the message that there are still humans involved; that you're not just dealing with a machine, and that in turn suggests a product or service that is still able to do human things like empathise and listen.'

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No longer in their infancy, Dropbox continue to invest time and money into illustration to grow their audience and brand identity. In fact, they've recently worked with Animade and a selection of other illustrators on a complete brand redesign.

Animade say: 'As part of their new visual identity, Dropbox wanted to evolve their existing use of illustration as a tool for communicating with users imaginatively, in ways that go beyond words. Inspired by the immediacy of sketching out raw ideas, the concept was to represent a space where creative work-in-progress happens.'

We've helped a number of tech companies humanise their brands with illustration, too. A mural to celebrate cloud company Cobweb's 20th anniversary in business, tracked all of the key milestones of the business over the years, from individual employees' achievements to Cobweb's company culture. They may be 'tech' through and through, but their story is one of very human endeavour.

Cobweb's Mark Terry reflects: 'The final scribe is a real talking point, with so much detail to take in. It's been a really positive thing for both new and existing members of the team, and we're all really chuffed with the artwork. It's helped us celebrate the various things we've done, and serves as a reminder to us and our clients that, behind the brand, we are people.'

Watch our scribes in action here:


If you're interested in how scribing, sketchnoting or animation could help your company, get in touch here.