Stop Copying Facebook

Why does every app use the same style of illustration?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Stuyvesant students are no strangers to Facebook. While we roam the platform to stay up to date with the school community, various illustrated elements, like default group covers or banners, often catch our attention. The illustrations are nothing special, but it’s become very noticeable that this same style of artwork is plastered across platforms and marketing collateral of a multitude of other companies. These illustrations should be appealing, but their omnipresence and the idyllic but false harmony they portray have made them subject to complaints from designers and users alike.

The style of illustration Facebook uses is called Alegria, a style developed by design agency Buck specifically for Facebook. This style of illustration is characterized by a flat design, characters with disproportionate bodies and long limbs, pastel colors, and monoweight lines. The characters’ smiles and distorted, elongated bodies contribute to the light-hearted nature of the illustrations, and their unrealistic body shapes and skin colors draw viewers in.

Facebook’s color choices in illustrations are intentional and impactful. For example, they use less saturated pastel colors, which are softer on the eyes and relax viewers. In addition, pastel colors are frequently associated with springtime and therefore kindle positive emotions that accompany the season. They also remind viewers of childhood, helping further the playful tone of the long-limbed characters. The more saturated colors dispersed throughout Alegria-style artwork, the more energized they believe the viewer will feel.

Blue, in particular, invokes trust in users and is used often in Facebook’s illustrations. The color is associated with reliability and sincerity, which are values that Facebook wants to convey to its users, especially in light of the new wave of controversy over Facebook’s lack of transparency. In fact, the disparity between the jolly, utopian scenes depicted in Facebook illustrations and the increasingly divisive world Facebook contributes to is one reason why the cheerful expressions on the characters may fail to translate to users.

More significant, though, may be the adoption of similar design styles by countless other businesses, from small startups to big tech corporations. This homogeneity of illustration styles similar to Alegria is termed “Corporate Memphis.” Corporate Memphis is everywhere, from User Interface design to editorial covers, but the pervasive nature of the style has caused many to view it as a symbol of the unoriginality and disingenuity of corporations.

Our annoyance with the repetitiveness of this art style stems from our desire to avoid boredom, which can be caused by a lack of novelty. New stimuli are important for cognitive growth and mental health; thus, we have been wired to feel uncomfortable when bored.

While we may have enjoyed Facebook’s bright, minimalist illustrations the first time we saw them, the incessant replication of the art style in so many other locations has tarnished its appeal. The insincerity of many of the corporations using the art style, notably Facebook itself, can be blamed, but our own biology also fosters our disdain of Alegria and its numerous copycats. How long the trend of imitating Facebook’s illustrators will last is uncertain, but the growing frequency of this style will only get more irritating.