Little did Facebook know, when they launched their illustration system in 2017, they’d started the ‘corporate art-style’ bandwagon that torments the web today.
I’m sure, whilst browsing various websites and inevitably being forced to sit through ‘unskippable’ ads, we’ve all encountered these gangly, disproportionate, eternally cheery monstrosities that soullessly smile at us while promoting the evillest pyramid scheme ever seen. In fact, I saw one this morning whilst researching the topic. These flat non-humans belong to an art style family known as ‘Alegria’, which is Spanish for joy (though they deliver anything but). They’re a favourite amongst corporations but notoriously despised by the public, earning the nickname of ‘corporate art’.
But why has the infamous style become so widespread yet so hated? Its mass use is rooted in a trend of streamlining and convenience. ‘Flat art’, like Alegria, uses no lines, no shading, and doesn’t adhere to proportions, which makes it easy to replicate and quick to create. Characters are always positioned in vibrant and dynamic poses, even if they seem entirely unrelated to what they’re promoting; they exist to sell an image. These grinning blobs aim to be as inviting and inoffensive as possible to gain the trust of everyone by being innocuous, yet they achieve the opposite. Unrelatable, unevocative and unremarkable, this combination makes for a vacant and fake impression, only heightened by how omni-present it seems. It feels like Alegria will never end, but all trends are fated to die. Now that people are beginning to notice its suffocating presence, I can only imagine its lifespan will soon end.
A growing meme culture of spite towards the art style has emerged. Subreddits dedicated to hating on corporate graphic designs have thousands of members. Parodies of Alegria have accumulated over 100,000 likes, and a YouTube video by user ‘Solar Sands’ that criticises the art style has garnered more than 3 million views. With so much negative attention, it’s unlikely that marketers will commit to Alegria over new graphic design styles and approaches.
Brand image is important, but the band-wagoning of art style trends is risky, and it’s critical to know when to pull out. It’s proven that media that reaches high popularity becomes stale and distasteful once it’s overstayed its welcome—often becoming victim to high criticism after its peak. Furthermore, when it comes to methods as oversaturated as corporate art styles, you sacrifice individuality and all the perks that come with this—such as personality and a connection to your market. For instance, what does Alegria do for your brand if it looks just like everyone else’s? When the style has multiple coined terms to generalise it, such as ‘the big tech art style’ and ‘Corporate Memphis’, it’s safe to say that using it will make you ‘just another one of them’. Maybe not the image you’d want to portray.
This isn’t the first time vacant and simplified designs have seen mass disapproval. Minimalism amongst company logos has been a steady but sure process, with many renowned brands trimming their iconic emblems—often seeing a heavy backlash for their efforts. Whilst change is rarely met with cheers of support, annoyance over the widespread trend of reductionism is a justified gripe. Take the smoothening of the Firefox logo, for example; the beloved fox wrapped around the Earth has slowly been morphed into a few clean shapes hovering over a purple orb. I could find many logos aesthetically similar to the new Firefox design, but the original is one of a kind. That uniqueness is what forged people’s impression of Firefox, which makes it much more memorable than its cookie cutter redesign.
Discord, a popular voice chat and text app, recently redesigned its logo to appear smoother, more compact and more like a video game controller. Although there’s logic behind this decision, Discord sacrificed the previous dynamic design, which people related to the brand, for one that sat uncomfortably with users, who claimed it made Discord feel more ‘corporate’. Discord has always been a corporation, but its previous brand image distracted people from this fact and made it appear personable; reduction destroyed all this hard work.
The removal of coloured and textured features from the Pringle man, in favour of a ‘man’ staring vacantly, seemingly devoid of humanity, on their tubes, has taken away the human connection the original provided. The lack of humanisation within designs intended to be human just results in a bland mannequin that no one can identify with.
Minimalism as a category within the design world can be effective, but a fine line must be trod so that any reductionism doesn’t lead to downgrading. Unfortunately, Alegria has fallen victim to this.