Tips on illustration in web design

Here, Gene Crawford provides tips on how to use illustration to spice up your website without it making navigation confusing...

Focus on illustration

Illustration can add character, warmth and personality into your web design. However, there is a danger of muddying the waters of interaction and communication if it isn't done well.

It's important to make sure there is a clear distinction between interactive elements and illustrative content. This will ensure that the site is not only beautiful to look at but is also easy for users to navigate through and take any action, such as signing up for a newsletter.

Different styles

Differentiating between interaction and illustration can be approached in several different ways. However, it's normally best if buttons, navigation elements and calls-to-action aren't in the same style as the illustration on the rest of the page, to help them stand out.

For example, if the illustration is heavily textured and rough, perhaps everything the user interacts with should have sharp edges and drop shadows. If the illustration is line or one-colour, then a good way to differentiate it from the navigation would be to make all other elements brightly coloured.

Clearing the way

The point is that making these elements visually distinct from the illustration helps reduce confusion by making the spot what they want to do or where they want to go. This will allow the user to marvel at the beautiful art on your site while still getting them on their way.

Five examples to check out...


The website for project management application Basecamp makes perfect use of symbolic illustrations to tell the story of what the application is and what you do with it.

Xperia social experiments

This example, that featured on Sony's Xperiments website, shows the illustrative and interactive elements are mixed a little too closely. While beautifully illustrated it can lead to some confusing interaction points.

Mailchimp (opens in new tab)

The email marketing application Mailchimp is a great example of using rich illustrative and pictorial images and having a very clear differentiation between that and the interactive elements.


The web designer portfolio for Indubitablee is a great mix of illustration and balanced interactive elements. They even use colour to help solidify the difference visually.

Ian James Cox

The portfolio website for Ian james Cox uses both illustrative elements and traditional navigation to create an interesting way to navigate the site's content.

And that's it for now! Did you find this useful? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.

This feature was originally published in .net magazine issue 224.

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