In November 2020 Nextdoor approached me to create an illustration style and library as part of a bigger rebranding initiative.
It is always exciting to kick off a new project but it is especially so when it includes diving into an extensive character exploration. The app brings people of all ages, races and interests together and it was important that this diversity is reflected in the stories we tell with the illustrations.
Setting the goals and collecting inspiration
Nextdoor provided an art direction for the colours and style but before we get to that part we had to clarify the tone of the visual language and the character design.
When it comes to creating illustrations that are relatable, there is no better place to look for inspiration than in real life situations. However, adding a pinch of whimsy helps tell stories that are not just relatable but unexpected and fun.
Concept sketches, characters and more
With the right references in hand, I dived into sketching a bunch of different characters and scenes. Starting with realistic situations and slowly pushing the boundaries to a more whimsical storytelling helped me define three different directions.
— Kate Lydon, Head of Design at Nextdoor
The concept board that stood out was the ‘Playful’. It had the right amount of whimsy and at the same time illustrations were relatable and authentic. However, it was important to take some time and focus on diversity among the characters. While Nextdoor is a technology company, their users are as diverse as it can get and we had to make sure that everyone feels represented.
Once we were set on the right storytelling and look of the characters, it was time to explore the brushes and colouring.
Nextdoor strives to be a trusted hub for neighbours to exchange helpful information, goods and services but most of all to cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighbour to rely on. In the illustrations I aimed to portray this through different everyday situations that we can all relate to.
Expanding the library required adapting the illustrations for different use cases, including the night mode of the app. Together with the product design team, we worked to create a color palette that works for a dark background.
Building Nextdoor's illustration library was a lengthy and dynamic process - from the first concepts, through the style exploration, the production and the organizing the assets. The illustrations had to work in so many different use cases that it was impossible to set all the stylistic rules right at the begining. We started from the broad strokes like character design, brush sets, colour pallette and then figured out the smaller parts of the system like the spots and icons, colour variations, naming and file organization.
This whole process involved a lot of back and forth, iterations and discussions with the design team and leadership. I’m more than grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the lovely people from Nextdoor that made the journey a breeze.
Thank you Nextdoor for the opportunity.
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