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Design Talk: Why Custom Icons and Illustrations are Better Than Stock

Tyler Zenk Sr Designer Heashot

By Tyler Zenk | September 2018

Content can be difficult to digest on web pages when it’s formatted in large paragraphs. While the text is necessary for SEO purposes, it helps the user to understand the information presented when there are icons and illustrations on the page.


Icons work to communicate an idea in a visual format and reinforce your brand’s image with unique styling. Depending on how playful your brand is, the iconography can be used to show your brand’s personality.


Nowadays, the web offers so many options for stock icons and illustrations. While access is easy, there are so many reasons why having an agency design custom icons and illustrations is the best approach. Here are some of the reasons.


Visual Understanding

Copy on websites is important for many reasons. However, when pages have images, icons, and illustrations, the message can be more easily understood and remembered the user because of the visual representation.

‘Eye’cons are Eye Catching

See what I did there? Visuals like illustrations and icons can be used to break up large sections of text and make it easier to digest and scan through. Illustrations and icons can also be used to direct the user’s eye to specific content or sections on the web page.


Custom icons and illustrations will make your brand stand out and maintain a consistent look and feel on your website. At Element5, we work with you to create custom iconography that fits your unique branding and communicates a specific message to your users.


Here is an overview of our icon and illustration process:

  • Sketch ideas after reading through the specific content sections that require illustrations
  • Review the brand’s tone and voice, color palette, and logo
  • Define illustration rules (solid colors, line weight, etc.)
  • Start creating iconography

The Downside of Stock Icons/Illustrations

If you decide to use stock icons, you may find yourself searching through thousands of different sets to find ones that match and best represent your brand.


Unless the same illustrator or designer creates your icons, you may fall victim to the Frankenstein Effect. Even the slightest variation in style or stroke width of an icon or illustration can make it look pieced together or “Frankenstein-like”, losing the overall cohesiveness of your brand’s representation on your website.


A Real Life Example of Custom Illustrations & Icons

The Young Woodworkers Kit Club Icons

Target audience: Kids, Parents & Grandparents

Keywords: Kid-Friendly, Fun, Handmade


The Young Woodworkers Kit Club is a subscription service for kids to learn woodworking skills with a variety of wood projects.


Although the majority of the visitors on the Young Woodworker Kit Club’s website are parents and grandparents, we still wanted the website to have a playful and inviting feel that would appeal to kids. We wanted the illustrations to match that tone.



The icons and illustrations were made to look handmade. We added a few “weird” angles so they appeared less pixel perfect and more childlike.


We also created custom PDF icons to match the brand’s illustrations style, instead of using the generic PDF icon.


If you are interested in custom illustrations, icons, or a full website design, contact us today!

Tyler Zenk Sr Designer Heashot

Written by

Tyler Zenk

Runner, coffee addict, homebrewer and designer. Acting at the sweet spot between modernism and function to craft delightful brand experiences.

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