Why is this trend taking over?

4 years ago from , UI Engineer. I'm a bit mean sometimes

I've been seeing the same type of illustration all over the web, and while I am used to us designers mainly just applying trends, I am curious as to why this specific trend has just caught on so quickly and so widespread?

Don't get me wrong, I really like this specific style. But as I am seeing it literally everywhere, I have become saturated very quickly with it. Does anyone know how this started?

€: A lot of people didn't seem to understand the question, but I got my question answered in the comments by a few people. Thanks all for adding great value to this discussion.


  • Matt KMatt K, 4 years ago

    It's a slightly European, retro look. First popular in the 50s and 60s, it's been making a bit of a comeback. Monocle magazine started using it in the early 2010s and I've seen it used more and more since then.

    Stylised illustration like this is great for communicating concepts or how things work in a simple way. It's organic and fun without being too out-there and works well with digital as it brings a human touch to something which could be too 'technological'.

    Photos often aren't right as they're highly specific - we immediately focus on the detail, the people, the setting etc., rather that what's trying to be communicated. 'Conceptual' photography is hard to do without resorting to groaningly obvious clichés - think lightbulbs, puzzle pieces or people in suits shaking hands.

    It's also fairly cheap to commission – lots of people can do it as it's a well known style. Pricier than Shutterstock, but much cheaper than a custom photoshoot.

    I've commissioned this sort of illustration myself, for exactly these reasons.

    50 points
  • Lucian .esLucian .es, 4 years ago

    Some of your references are not even the same style. I get what you are saying anyway.. Who cares?

    40 points
    • Ryan Hicks, 4 years ago

      If only we could downvote.

      26 points
      • Patryk KabajPatryk Kabaj, 4 years ago

        Rather than... being negative, you could answer Thomas's question. He didn't intend to do any harm, but you did. I've looked at your other comments - most of them are negative. "buggy, horrible" - your words. Best one: "If only downvotes existed. Yes, solely for you." - I'd say perhaps for you yourself.

        He's asked this, just so you know:

        Does anyone know how this started?

        18 points
    • J Thomas, 4 years ago

      All the comments below care because it's a relevant discussion... I rode my bike by a billboard for Airtable with the same style yesterday. Until then I didn't realize IT WAS EVERYWHERE

      1 point
  • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, 4 years ago

    Because real illustrations take a lot of effort and skill. This means they are far more expensive to commission. Designers (and I'm certainly guilty of this) learned to be creative enough with illustrating to sell a service but we're not so good that we could make a living doing this. Sure, if done right, it can be a learning process to becoming more of a full time illustrator but not everyone pushes themselves to this extent.

    10 points
    • Thomas Michael Semmler, 4 years ago

      so you think this abstracted human shapes - trend is a bit more popular because its easier for designers without a focus on illustrations to create?

      1 point
      • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, 4 years ago

        I do. I'm sure some of the better work is being done by illustrators or designers with more of an illustration background but a lot of the simpler stuff is easy enough to create in a vector app like Illustrator. It's also easy to start with an existing illustration and riff off that style or layout and composition, altering enough to make it unique (well, most of the time anyway).

        2 points
        • Josh Sanders, 4 years ago

          I doubt anyone is doing this with the sole business/design reasoning of "well, it's cheaper so ya I like this style, let's go with it." Also, this style has been around since the Art Deco era, and perhaps even before that—Simplified forms and expressive colors/shapes are nothing new.

          2 points
          • Stuart McCoyStuart McCoy, 4 years ago

            I don't believe clients are saying the directly but budgets are shrinking and design firms are looking at new revenue streams and services that can offer that might just keep some clients around longer. A lot of marketing departments see this sort of thing and ask agencies to do the same. Since the style is so simple and doesn't necessarily require the hiring of an illustrator all the better for the budget and what the agency gets to keep in the end. Sure, there are very talented illustrators who elevate this style and do just fine but they are working with much larger brands whose budgets might be small, it's all relative.

            There's a lot of reuse and modifications around this style as well that makes it a nice budget conscience approach as well.

            0 points
        • J Thomas, 4 years ago

          The point on it being cheaper to copy an existing style makes sense

          0 points
    • J Thomas, 4 years ago

      What's a "real illustration" though? Does it have more detail? The style may not be en vogue or appropriate for marketing a tech company. We saw a parallel trend toward simplicity and away from realism in Flat design.

      0 points
    • Julian SalasJulian Salas, 4 years ago

      How are these not "Real Illustrations"?

      0 points
  • John PJohn P, 4 years ago

    Different enough to seem creative, same enough to get signed off.

    10 points
    • Thomas Michael Semmler, 4 years ago

      my point exactly. But as people pointed out, it is not the first time. I am just surprised, that this specific trend took over in such a widespread manner. But maybe it just seems different to me with this trend, subjectively.

      1 point
  • Mike A.Mike A., 4 years ago

    No, the 2018 trend is this: https://twitter.com/agilek/status/962996686321840128

    7 points
  • Kyle ConradKyle Conrad, 4 years ago

    Almost none of these are the same style?

    7 points
  • Mike RundleMike Rundle, 4 years ago

    The trend of colorful illustrations to explain products? My dude, that ain't a trend.

    6 points
  • Aubrey JohnsonAubrey Johnson, 4 years ago

    I could be wrong, but I think this style gained significant popularity when Meg Robichaud (https://dribbble.com/megdraws) introduced a bunch of new marketing work when she joined Shopify. This style was the foundation of that work.

    It might’ve been sooner, but I remember seeing it really take off after that work started dropping on Dribbble. Again, I could be amiss, but that’s how I recall it.

    I like it personally.

    5 points
    • Nixson Sysanga, 4 years ago

      It's that and a combination of other things, larger tech companies like Shopify invest in an brand-illustration style to help communicate a multitude of things like value props, to empty states in their app.

      Slack also starts creating their own colourful illustrations...then Asana has their own, and it begins to start influencing smaller companies to do the same and invest in illustrations to tell their story. Smaller companies might point to these references and tell an illustrator to "do that style", and dribbbler's start hopping on the trend.

      Despite it being trendy, I like the illustrations as well, I think sometimes illustration can convey things about a brand or concept more than a photograph can. I've also seen enough of them where I can say definitively that there are all differences that make something like the Shopify illustrations different than Slack illustrations.

      1 point
  • Taylor PalmerTaylor Palmer, 4 years ago

    Because faces are hard to illustrate.

    4 points
  • Mihai SerbanMihai Serban, 4 years ago

    I don't think there is an accurate answer to your question but this is how trends work. The same thing happened a few years ago when dropbox introduced this illustration style: Missing File Illustration - Dropbox

    4 points
  • Jordan BJordan B, 4 years ago

    Developing a unique illustration style takes years and these abstract illustrations are frequently made up of warped geometric shapes that are easy to copy/reproduce with vector apps. A designer with minimal illustration chops can probably figure out how to reproduce one of these fairly easily. That being said—it still takes a lot of talent and I'm not mad at it.

    3 points
  • M. de Winter, 4 years ago

    I think this style of illustration is particularly often used within mobile UX design where empty states, onboarding screens and errors are being enriched with contextual illustrations.

    What do all these illustration have in common? They don't fixate on the character, but the surroundings/context. Exactly what you need when you want to explain your users 'what happened'.

    I preferably use contextual illustrations without too much detail (e.g. no facial expressions/eyes, etc.) because of the relative small size of mobile screens. Also, since most mobile experiences now focus on a minimalistic visual style with a lot of whitespace, big typography and subtle shadows, it's logical that the illustrations are also a bit more minimalistic.

    3 points
  • John Edwards, 4 years ago

    Which trend are your talking about? I'm just seeing some cartoon characters illustrations, and they've been around for a few decades in advertising and all

    3 points
  • Adam YeagerAdam Yeager, 4 years ago

    While I disagree that these could be categorized as the same style, these monoculture illustrations absolutely can, and if anything helps move trends away from that boring ubiquitous geometric style that's been dominant way too long, im all for it.

    1 point
  • Robin GoyalRobin Goyal, 4 years ago

    I don't see these types of illustrations everyday. I think they are good.

    1 point
  • Nate DaubertNate Daubert, 4 years ago

    Because mid century modern is in.

    1 point
  • Miraj MohsinMiraj Mohsin, 4 years ago

    What's the issue?

    1 point
  • Adam CriggerAdam Crigger, 4 years ago

    I see Anna Hurley riding this wave quite well, http://www.annalouisehurley.com/

    0 points
  • Rey AlejandroRey Alejandro, 4 years ago

    I believe Dribbble personalized your home to what you like, maybe that's the reason, you like this styles? You might be in a bubble. I also think that this style is only common in tech/startups groups. When dropbox, google, SF startups do it — the rest of the world just copy you or "get inspired" :)

    0 points
  • Corentin Gautier, 4 years ago

    "just caught on so quickly and so widespread" -> it has been used by Google ;)


    0 points
  • Philip LesterPhilip Lester, 4 years ago

    Cuz it looks great and immediately adds a ton of polish to any site.

    0 points
  • Jon MyersJon Myers, 4 years ago

    Illustration, taking over.

    0 points
  • alec salec s, 4 years ago

    cuz dribbble

    0 points
  • Jrtorrents Dorman , 4 years ago

    it’s interesting that you couldn’t describe it because even though they’re quite similar in a certain way, they’re also have quite unique style.

    The style in question is a natural progression of flat design popularized by Microsoft’s Metro (Zune, WP7 ) >> iOS 7 >> Google Material Design.

    0 points
  • Ktrn DsrsKtrn Dsrs, 4 years ago

    They call it the "Tailored Illustrations" trend and I hope it will stay for a while…! Simply search this string on google search:

    design trends "Tailored Illustrations"

    0 points
  • Surjith S MSurjith S M, 4 years ago

    I thought the same. Not sure who started it, but personally I like this style. Esp when humans are involved. Complex illustrations made simple yet adds detail.


    0 points
  • Mo BaghdadiMo Baghdadi, 4 years ago

    First of it's a trend. It seems to catch people's attention. The style is friendly, easy going, colourful and welcoming. Start ups want to be seen in that light and not a corporate one. Furthermore, it's a nice way of showcasing how the product works. They are almost like user stories but for the end user to understand the product.

    0 points
  • Gabriel AnghelGabriel Anghel, 4 years ago

    I personally like the trend, I think it can be unique from one website to another while giving it a more human touch, rather then using just some icons.

    0 points
  • Michael van HolkerMichael van Holker, 4 years ago

    Maybe write straight to the illustrators and ask them about it

    0 points