Icons vs illustrations

You want to express your ideas graphically, but would icons or illustrations be more appropriate? There are a couple of things to consider when making this decision with your graphic designer: function and style.

Function and style

When it comes to functionality, icons are used to visually represent a simple idea, object or activity on first glance. When executed successfully, they present information clearly so that the message is immediately perceived. Stylistically, icons should be easily recognizable, bold and not detailed. They need to be effective in both small and large scales.


Illustrations, on the other hand, are more complex than icons. They provide a narrative, capturing multiple ideas or telling a story. They are useful in displaying a snapshot of the surrounding content’s theme or main idea. A well-designed and drawn illustration can pull the viewer in by telling a short story of its own without reading any content. Illustrations come in an unlimited amount of styles and varying levels of detail and complexity.


When it comes to choosing whether icons or illustrations would be best for your project, it depends on your content, audience and the purpose of the graphics. Discuss your ideas and content with your graphic designer so that you can brainstorm the best approach.

Brochures, websites and presentations greatly benefit from icons and illustrations as they display the information in an appealing way and give the viewer a break from text. Content that could be considered tedious to read can come alive with graphical representation.

Icons vs illustrations, whichever you decide, will engage your viewer in a way text content never will.