In 1998 Google released its first doodle. It was a stick man behind Google’s second O as a tip that the founders were out of office for Burning Man.
A lot has happened since 1998, and we can’t say for sure that was what started it all, but it’s safe to agree that illustration in tech came a very long way.
Illustrations have been used almost since the dawn of Man to convey meaning that would otherwise be harder to put into words.
When we’re kids, we enjoy books with pictures because it’s easier for our little brains to gather information and get a sense of the story without having to fully read it.
It is very hard to keep up with technology, and it is very easy for people to get overwhelmed, and when people get overwhelmed, they shut off.
It’s the 3 F’s rule of anxiety: Fight, Flight or Freeze, and this seamlessly applies to the response people have when confronted with new technological advances.
We’ve seen this before. The concept of “Kawaii” appeared in Japan after WW2 as a need of comforting a society that had been through some tough times and just wanted safe and happy feelings.
So what these companies are trying to do is simplify the way we look at technology, so it can be approachable and relatable.
Many of them have invisible products, like Dropbox’s cloud storage or Mailchimp, and they can be conveyed on illustrations not of the product itself, but the interaction it allows.
Our stick figures are a bit more elaborated now, but still pretty de-humanized. They stay ambiguous enough and almost feature-less so we can easily see ourselves as the character portrayed.
Humans will be humans no matter how far the technological advances go, and no matter how sophisticated new ways of communication become, we will most likely keep preferring the most simple and primitive ones in order to understand new and complex concepts.