Learn how companies such as Dropbox, Uber, and Slack use illustration to increase conversion

Pawel Utr
Pawel Utr
Oct 18, 2018 · 6 min read

Heavily illustrated websites and apps are quite common nowadays, no matter the industry, but not too long ago that wasn’t the case. Some of the world’s smartest companies have bet on illustrations early on, gracing their digital products and accompanying marketing pages with tiny artworks, and today they are reaping the rewards. They’ve sparked a worldwide trend in digital design, which others have been trying to catch up to ever since. I believe that the storytelling element of illustrations is crucial to their effectiveness. In this article, I’m going to share some insights on how Dropbox, Uber, and Slack — world-renowned leaders in their industries — have increased conversion rates through illustration.

Dropbox: illustrations cementing brand identity

Dropbox’s road to a refined, scalable illustration system that’s in use today has been long and bumpy. It started with an unconventional move: the company started using drawings created by one of their employees, Jon Ying (who, incidentally, didn’t consider himself an illustrator), when communicating with users.

Illustrations by Jon Ying

Inspired by a multitude of positive responses, Dropbox continued to experiment with various illustration styles, pioneering the use of drawings not only in marketing communications but in the product itself as well. As the company and the brand/design team continued to grow, the illustration system evolved with them.

Many risks had to be taken and numerous battles had to be fought in order to prove the value of illustration to the ever-changing managerial staff of a growing start-up. Not doing exactly what was expected of a tech company and experimenting instead, paid off time and time again. A certain piece by Zach Graham, which is actually one of my favourite works of his, is believed by some to have saved the company millions of dollars through discouraging existing PRO users from downgrading to a free plan.

An illustration by Zach Graham

Users who have taken the first step to downgrade were presented with an illustration of a tiny fishbowl placed next to a spacious aquarium. This is a great example of emotionally-charged imagery; it prompts you to consider how miserable the life of a pet confined to a cramped space must be, compared to the life of a castle-owning boss-ass fish, swimming freely in a big aquarium. No mention of files, folders, or storage space, and yet we all get the gist.

Today, Dropbox is proudly known as a design-centric company, with an illustration system in place admired by millions of devoted users, myself included. Michael Jeter, Illustration Lead at Dropbox, writes that:

“Ultimately, the illustration style had cemented its role in the Dropbox identity, and it was used pretty much everywhere, including product, marketing, comms, and advertising. You name it, and illustration brought life and meaning to it.”

It seems not only have the Dropbox stakeholders been convinced of the power of illustration, but the entire tech world is now sold on the idea too.

Uber: communicating through emotions

Uber’s unified illustration system spans from the gorgeous, animated in-app badges you might have noticed when complimenting your driver after a ride to compelling ad campaigns displayed on billboards all over the world.

Source: Uber — Dribbble
Source: Uber illustrations | Communication Arts
Source: Uber

The company’s most recent rebranding, launched in September 2018, lists illustration as one of nine pillars making up Uber’s brand system. Streamlined shapes, simple lines, and a limited colour palette make the illustrations easy to understand at a glance.

The design team at Uber has defined three basic principles for their illustrations to influence conversion as significantly as possible. Uber’s illustrations must be:

  1. Hyper efficient

So there we have it, a corporate illustration system that’s governed by rules similar to those of fables and children’s stories. Communicating through emotions once used to be reserved for private conversations only, but now it’s a rapidly growing practice for brands to appropriate such language. Companies like Uber employ this and various supplementary techniques to appeal to their customers by speaking to them on a level as personal as possible.

Slack: simple, personal storytelling

Slack is a collaboration platform that needs no introduction — this brilliant tool has completely transformed the way millions of people work and communicate with team members and clients. The company’s marketing pages have been redesigned latterly; many of them now prominently feature stunning illustrations by Alice Lee.

Illustrations by Alice Lee

The visuals seem well thought-out, and the characters at work are quite diverse, which contributes to the artworks’ overall appeal.

Slack’s blog, Several People Are Typing, is also bursting with illustrations. Interestingly, they’re done in various styles, and yet somehow everything goes together really well. If photographs are used, they are engaging and feel personal — often because they’re enriched with illustrated elements. And to think that those could’ve been boring stock photos of coffee mugs and notebooks!

As Seth Godin says:

“People do not buy goods & services. They buy relations, stories & magic.”

And such emotion-enticing, conversion-sparking stories — sprinkled with magic — are best told through illustrations. They help simplify complex messages and allow for communication between companies and consumers to feel deeper and more personal.

A cleverly placed witty artwork, be it a hand-drawn icon or a smiley mascot character, has the power to make a laborious task seem easier to accomplish or an “unsubscribe” button almost impossible to click.

Connect with me:

Instagram — @peut.etre

LinkedIn — @pawelutr

Personal website — peutet.re

Did you know we have in-house illustrators at our clients’ disposal at Netguru? We only hire best-in-class talent, so you can be sure your illustration needs will be handled by top professionals.

Netguru

Netguru builds software that lets people do things differently. Share your challenge with our team and we’ll work with you to deliver a revolutionary digital product.

Pawel Utr

Written by

Pawel Utr

Senior Strategic Product Designer / Consultant. Currently at Netguru. https://peutet.re

Netguru

Netguru

Netguru builds software that lets people do things differently. Share your challenge with our team and we’ll work with you to deliver a revolutionary digital product.

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