Don't Blame Artists for Flat Humans


Jessica Jendres

At first glance the illustration style of “Flat Humans” seems like the least harmful thing in the industry.

But these quirky renditions have been the subject of a fair bit of scrutiny for the past few years. And while the blame game seems to shift whenever these scrutiny periods pop up, I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t get angry at the illustrators for just doing their job.

If anything, you can blame the big corporations. Shocker.

*Flat Humans* is a term that comes from the illustrative renditions of humans in flat design. The flat design trend derives from Swiss Style, or International Typographic Style. That design style originated from Switzerland in the 1940s and 50s, and is still heavily prominent in current design trends. Swiss style is one of my personal favourite styles as it really shows how you can communicate effectively while using simple layouts.

Corporations think the flat aesthetic that appears neutral on its own will work well with illustrations of humans. All while still maintaining a playful vibe throughout.

This creates the sometimes charming but other times jarring amalgamations we see today. Illustrations that feature people with large outstretched limbs combined with tiny heads or rectangular bodies with small soulless faces on top of them. I get it, it’s often not the prettiest thing you can find online.

These illustrations absolutely break any anatomy rules we’re taught when learning the basics of drawing. But it gets the job done and creates no backlash in the company’s main audience, which is why they are so prevalent in current designs.

Sure you could get an amazing illustrator that does detailed artwork to showcase on your website or social media platforms. But then you run into the problem of heavily stylized artwork that can only be appreciated by some of your target audience. Flat design has become so prevalent in recent times that most audiences now almost expect to see it on most websites. And that’s not to knock on the artists that do create artwork in a flat aesthetic.

I understand that this style is more easily accepted by companies as they think that’s the standard. In terms of creating artwork like this, having a ‘stock’ body to work with were you only need to change certain aspects of the design, like hair or clothing, can make it much easier and faster to create these images. And that fits a pretty common big company philosophy of time is money.

Why spend more money on studio photography or intricate illustrations when you can get stock illustrations for cheaper.

But as I’m writing this, there is a slow and steady movement of people that are aware of Flat Humans and are trying to shift companies’ views on them. The market has becoming so filled with this style, that with easy to create programs like Humaaans, it’s almost the easy way out to use this illustrative style. Though nothing will truly change till companies stop commissioning artists to create graphics for them in this style.

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