There are many ways to tell a visual story, ranging from technical diagrams to lush, immersive illustrations. What’s appropriate depends on the audience, the context, and the content.
Use illustration when icons and diagrams alone are too dry or technical, or when a subject is too complicated or abstract to be understood another way. Illustration is a good way to build narrative structure or demonstrate a concept, while diagrams and charts are useful when presenting data. Illustration also works well for animation and motion graphics, and we use the same visual style for both.
Basic illustration takes the foundation provided by our icon set and fleshes it out, giving it weight and meaning that aren’t obvious in icons alone. Basic illustrations are usually individual objects, small vignettes, or groupings, and should have a similar feel regardless of who draws them.
Borrow existing shapes whenever you can, then add color, dimension, and detail. If an icon is too simple to be used at a large scale, add detail. If an icon is too complex to be used at a small scale, remove detail until it’s simple enough for your purpose.
Use basic illustration for infographics and presentations, as well as in marketing materials like websites or in explainer videos for products.
Complex illustration puts the narrative first. The illustration should communicate the environment and mood in a way that enhances, not repeats, the content.
With complex illustration, the illustrator has the freedom to bend the rules in the service of the story. However, with that freedom comes accountability. Complex illustrations must still follow the spirit of the brand standards and our brand personality. An illustration that doesn’t feel “like Red Hat” isn’t doing its job.
Use complex illustration for advertising and high-level videos like event openers.
THE RED HAT ILLUSTRATION STYLE
Whether you’re creating a simple or complex illustration, the guidelines are the same.
All our illustrations should be clean, friendly, energetic, and uncluttered. Use crisp lines, sharp edges, and a generally flat style that feels unabashedly digital, but not robotic or cold. Use perspective sparingly—most of the time, objects will be seen from the front, not from an angle.
Start with simple forms and limited detail. Add just those details you need to tell the story, and no more.
Choose a single focal point and create a clear path for the eye to follow. Objects that are further away or less important to the story have less detail than those that are the focus of the illustration.
Pay attention to the tone you create, and make sure it matches the content. A vintage feel is an authentic choice when telling a historical story, but would be out of place for a story set in the present day.
COLOR AND LIGHT
Limit yourself to a few colors from our palette, using tints and shades to create depth and dimension. Using a limited color palette helps make the piece more cohesive and allows you to set the tone by using colors that may not be strictly realistic.
Light is communicated through color, as well. Choose a primary light source and use differences between light and dark to help define the focal point and create movement.
TEXTURE AND PATTERN
Thoughtful use of texture and pattern can add visual interest to our otherwise-flat illustration style.
Think about clever ways to use our patterns in your illustration. Can they be incorporated into backgrounds or shadows? Are they something you see right away, or are they an easter egg you only discover when you look closer?
Subtle textures like paper, film grain, or noise can help set the tone, especially in more complex illustrations. Avoid textures that look artificial or that are gritty or grungy.
If you’re using people in your illustration, make sure you’re representing a range of genders and skin tones. Don’t rely on tired stereotypes. For example, engineers don’t have to be men and teachers don’t have to be women.
Be aware of cultural considerations, especially around skin tone. Be thoughtful and respectful.
Be cartoony, silly, or overly cute.
Use hand-drawn or painterly effects.
Overuse textures or patterns.
Be overly realistic, especially when using gradients or 3-D tools.
Use colors that aren’t derived from our color palette.
Over-embellish or use more detail than you need.
Use illustration for technical diagrams or documentation.
Use “coloring book” outlines.
ILLUSTRATION IN USE
At the 2016 Red Hat Summit, one of the interactive elements required users to use a certain tag when they posted photos on twitter. A short animated gif using our illustration style explained the process.
To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of our listing on the NYSE, we created this animation that uses the same illustrations as our 2016 corporate awareness campaign.
Illustration plays a major role on the containers topic page on redhat.com, with related illustrations appearing in the header, a video, and in informational bands as you move down the page.
At the 2016 Red Hat Summit, designers from around the company created illustrated posters that represented each of our open source communities. This example is for Teaching Open Source.