Blue People Illustrations, or How to Kill a Brand
You stumble upon a landing page with a white background, some faceless blue people doing typical blue-human things somewhere off to the right, and a lonely little call-to-action button that’s floating hopelessly in a sea of blue and white.
Sound familiar? That’s because it’s been the defining mark of many new brands that have sprung up over the past two years or so.
Everyone and their grandmother has seen them by now—blue people, purple people, people without faces, polygons dressed as humans… There’s no shortage of it going around.
And it’s all thanks to free illustration libraries like Humaaans, unDraw, and Shape.
The Utility of Illustration Libraries
Some companies (startups in particular) have it rough. Their budget’s stretched thin, and they can’t hire a real designer to put in the real work that it takes it create a real brand.
(Or a decent copywriter so people can actually understand what their business does, instead of spending 15 minutes reading their landing page to eventually realize that “ideating human-centric solutions” basically just translates to “we make websites.”)
So they turn to free libraries like Humaaans and unDraw, which offer a plethora of customization options and colors for SVG illustrations of people from all walks of life.
Sure, there’s demand for these kinds of illustrations, especially among companies that are still in their early stages and are prototyping their websites.
And there was certainly a point in time when these illustrations were so novel and fresh on the scene of web design that they were actually interesting to look at.
But by now, they’ve been used ad nauseam by anyone and everyone. And they really only do one thing to your brand…
Killing a Brand in One Fell Swoop
I’ve seen these landing pages everywhere, and yet I can’t actually name a single company from among those that I’ve seen. These types of landing pages create absolutely zero brand recognition.
If your brand identity is tied to generic humanoid shapes and the color blue, then how do you expect people to differentiate you from the billions of other brands that look exactly like you and claim to value the same things that you do?
These generic “happy blue people” illustrations aren’t quirky or spontaneous. They’re not cute. And they’re not diverse, which is really the message that companies are trying to convey when they use these graphics. It’s a misguided attempt at creating a sense of inclusiveness, culture, or family through abstract shapes and colors that don’t really commit to any particular set of values or beliefs.
In reality, these illustrations are tired, generic, and plain boring to look at. And they don’t give you a good sense of what it is that a company actually does or values.
Brands That Get It Right
So what should you do instead? Be genuine. And best of all, show people using your product.
Here are just a few of the more memorable and unique landing pages from brands that have managed to create strong identities.
Slack’s website is the first that comes to mind of brand identity done right. The graphics have an illustrated feel to them, but they’re not some generic, faceless people devoid of life and soul—they’re happy users and happy customers who love to use the app. The colors, type, and illustrations give Slack’s landing page a very strong and memorable brand identity.
When I hear serif font, I think of Medium—it’s one of the most memorable parts of the platform in a web that’s increasingly developed with sans-serif fonts.
Medium’s landing page is simple and to the point, making it easy for you to get started. No gimmicks, and no confusing language—just a plain call to action for ordinary human beings.
Visual Studio Code
The screenshot of the IDE shows the three key selling points for most developers who use VS Code: extensions, intellisense, and built-in terminal integrations.
Again, there’s no need to use abstract shapes and people. Just show real people using or engaging with your product, like Shopify does with its landing page. The colors are sharp and perfect for the e-commerce space. And the call to action couldn’t be clearer: “Build an online business” in the heading, and “Join Shopify” as the button. It doesn’t get any simpler than that!
Khan Academy’s landing page is yet another good example of showing real people who use your product. For one, the site shows kids from all kinds of backgrounds who are learning and having fun. But it also switches up the classic “text on the left, graphics on the right” layout to create a more memorable look.
Ah, Google—one of the first brands to pioneer blue in the tech world. And yet, the landing page for Gmail is anything but generic or unrecognizable.
Sense a pattern here? Some of the best brands aren’t afraid of showing real people using their products, rather than presenting vague and abstract shapes that don’t tell any story.
Quora’s landing page is proof that you can have the best of both worlds—illustrations that are colorful and quirky and that make sense in the context in which they’re used.
The art style is reminiscent of Where’s Waldo—there are lots of cool little easter eggs here and there, with people from all walks of life doing all kinds of interesting things. And the brand’s description couldn’t be clearer: “A place to share knowledge and better understand the world.”
No More Blue People
Please… Just let them rest in peace.
Web design trends come and go, but that doesn’t mean that you should chase them.
Slapping a few generic SVGs on your landing page doesn’t make you a brand—it tells me that you don’t really know who you are as a company.
Yes, building a decent website with strong brand identity will probably cost you money. Most quality things do. But the investment pays off dividends when users actually remain on your site.