Identity, Research and Representation: Designing Badi’s New Illustration Style
On the process of crafting an illustration style for a fast growing startup
At the beginning of this year, the Badi team asked me to help them redefine their illustration identity, and I gladly accepted. Badi is an app that allows home sharers to find roommates, and room searchers to find a home. Once a match is made between both parties, they can connect directly — no intermediaries needed.
My goal for this project was to create an illustration identity that was consistent and personal, but also practical.
Identity as a starting point
By the time I entered the scene, Badi already had an existing base of illustrations, and people felt connected to them in some ways. This was my starting point: I wanted to understand how people wanted to be represented, while also hopefully creating an environment for honest feedback.
I looked for a good way to do this and ended up finding it in this article from illustrator Ryan Putnam. What he calls ‘brand audit’ caught my interest; he defines it as a “highly collaborative effort [where stakeholders] all gather in a room and discuss the current brand assets,” and decide what they want illustrations to do for the brand.
This article, coupled with reading everything Meg Robichaud has ever written about product illustration, helped me better understand the scope of this project.
With these learnings in mind, I ran a workshop with Badi team members, and together we defined the context, priorities, and desired outcome.
Researching what had been done
My second step was to examine their existing illustrations. I gathered as much of Badi’s past work as I could find and talked to the people involved in its development. What often happens in startups is that they undergo a growth spurt, which often leads to stylistic inconsistencies. This is what eventually prompted them to find someone to focus on the project.
Once we established our expectations, I set out to create a mood board. I wanted to give the team two to three possible directions, each with their own style, goal, and focus. Every direction was quite different, which allowed the team to clearly define what they were aiming for visually.
Getting down to bizness
With our preferred mood board in hand, I sat down, opened up Illustrator, and began exploring. We decided to start redesigning four of the already existing onboarding illustrations, because they encompassed a good range of illustrations that were relatable to the brand. The first iterations were centered around ‘animal characters.’
Now, ‘real talk’ representation is a big part of what we get asked to do as product illustrators. We want to do right by everyone, and it’s an opportunity not many people get. It doesn’t always come out perfectly, and there’s a lot of pressure to fit everyone in there, precisely because we all deserve to be included and seen. I personally chickened out; my instinct was to ‘cut corners’ by not using people at all and just drawing cats and dogs and weird looking birds.
Setting up an onboarding flow
In the end, we compromised: we kept some of the animal characters, and swapped some of them out for people. To do our best to further include racial and cultural diversity, we explored a range of physical features — hairstyle, facial features, clothing, etc. We also wanted to include gender-neutral characters.
Developing the visual language
One of the early explorations was a mix between playful, expressive linework and solid shapes, and the team really resonated with it. It felt hand-drawn (as much as vector illustration can be), imperfect, and approachable — yet also finished and polished.
I also iterated and tweaked details such as color palette and line thickness and the balance between shapes and lines, until it captured the illustration identity we were going for.
Product illustrations are needed in many different contexts, which is why we created such a variety of them. And because we wanted other illustrators and designers to be able to just come in and easily create new artwork, we made guidelines that they could consult and apply in order to be aligned with the illustration identity.
This project was a joy to work on, and it was also an incredible learning experience. It is by no means a finished product, but rather a constant work in progress, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to keep evolving and learning.
Special thanks to the design team at Badi that trusted me with their illustration baby: Javiera Craig, Roger Palli, and Patricio Murphy.