is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Google’s new calendar app for Android is perhaps the best yet demonstration of how illustration can be used as a key element in digital product design. Each view has a charming seasonal illustration at the top which expands to fill the left half of the screen in landscape mode on tablets. In the app’s “schedule” view, upcoming events are rendered as colorful blocks, sometimes with photographs or maps as backdrops—but also, most surprisingly, sometimes with illustrations (in the same style) apparently determined by key words in the event’s title. Here are a few that showed up on my calendar, with some private details redacted:
Pretty wonderful, right? I would have never expected the event for my kids’ swimming lesson would get its own art, but there it is.
In a way, this is a minor revelation; illustration as a tool for visual communication has suffered tremendously since the advent of digital media, and has been virtually ignored by product designers except for marketing or onboarding purposes. I’m not the biggest fan of the style of illustration used here, but it does show how much warmth and humanity can be added to software through the clever, integral use of illustration. I’d even like to see more of it; why show just one illustration for coffee- or drinks-related events (which are likely to appear on a user’s calendar repeatedly) when the user could be continually delighted by an array of them?
Admittedly, the sheer effort involved in going from one illustration to many is not trivial—effort, and the corresponding time requirements, have always been the deterrents to marrying illustration and digital products. But it’s encouraging that Google, of all companies, went to the lengths necessary to prove that those impediments can be overcome, and to winning effect. It’s even more surprising that the company responsible for this low-key breakthrough is Google, who once infamously multivariate-tested shades of blue.
Update: on Twitter, Anthony Dines pointed out that the illustrator, Lotta Niemenen, has posted work from the project at lottanieminen.com. Also, Joost Wouterse points out that the illustrations inside the event boxes were done by Maya Stepien, who has posted some of them at mayastepien.nl.+