My illustration work used to be something I kept distinctly separate from my portfolio, but in the past few years I’ve found that my illustration and my design work often connects. The role of a UX designer is to be empathetic, and one good way to express that is through illustration. During my undergraduate studies, I pursued a Bachelor's in Studio Art with an emphasis in Digital Art and Design. I’ve always been attracted to the intersection of technology, art, and human nature. For me, connecting these two parts of my experience is natural. Nothing sets a well-functioning product apart more than art. It can be what elevates a casual user to an evangelical one. When I make illustrations, they are human-centered, scalable, inclusive, and unique to each purpose.
In the past few years, the design community has seen firsthand how custom illustration has become key in some of our most recognizable products: Google, AirBnb, Shopify, Atlassian, Dropbox, Microsoft, and so many more. It’s no coincidence that these thriving companies use illustration that connects with people. Stock photos and stock illustrations often don't cut it, especially when trying to emotionally connect with our users, or explain complicated issues.
I have lead efforts to bring custom illustrations into various organizational products, branding, and other materials. When it comes to linking illustration to user experience, my goal is to connect with users on an emotional level: to celebrate their successes, ease their annoyances, and explain to them anything that might not be immediately understood.
The majority of my illustration work is vector-based, meaning that it can be interpreted for a variety of different purposes. The Piedmont Earth Day Fair theme of 2018 was “Roots of Change.” The concept seen above was translated into: posters, bus ads, banners, postcards, sandwich boards, signage, t-shirts, and web advertisements.
Regardless of what direction an illustration style goes, a primary focus of mine when making any style is to be inclusive. In user experience design, accessibility is key, and inclusivity and accessibility live in harmony. Representing your customers and your users means representing a diverse set of people and is essential to the success of the illustration style. As a TechGirlz instructor, I have also worked on multiple pieces to advertise upcoming workshops, one of which can be seen above. In a program focused on providing accessible education to all types of girls and non-binary children, it is a must; however, regardless of project, inclusivity should always be a primary consideration.
Each illustration style I work on has a unique touch, just like every product or organization it goes with. Although I do have my own style that can be seen in each piece I work on, I always seek to provide something special. When working on any style, I go through the process of outlining the “raison d'être” for it. Does this product value harmony with photography? Perhaps it seeks to use 100% illustration? How does illustration support the brand and the goals of the organization or product? All of these questions and more are ones I ask when working on an illustration, whether it is meant to standalone or be built into an illustration library.
When it comes to building illustration libraries, everything I do is documented in a way that can be used by others. Much like the principles of Atomic Design, when a series is delivered it comes with molecules, atoms, organisms, etc. This way, the illustration style can live on, be iterated on, and changed, as an organization needs it to.