Avatar design and the way forward for character illustration

In a world the place nameless digital interactions are the norm, an avatar is usually the one image representing an individual on-line. In contrast to emojis, memes and precise phrases, an avatar is each a automobile for expression and a masks, for higher or worse. And as helpful as avatars are in each instances, they’re solely sure to change into extra necessary because the world grows extra on-line and distant.

A person looking into their photo to see a cartoon tiger illustration
Illustration by OrangeCrush

However what makes for an efficient avatar? In spite of everything, a selfie is just one sort of the numerous sorts of avatars on the market. Out of all the potential choices, it may be exhausting to know what sort of avatar is acceptable for a given clientele. This problem is barely sophisticated by the truth that avatar design needs to be nonspecific sufficient for use by a large and various vary of individuals, and but—in some way—particular sufficient for particular person individuals to really feel prefer it stands for them personally.

Thankfully, good avatar design is just not as contradictory because it sounds: on this information, we’ll stroll you thru how avatars work and what goes into growing an important one.

What’s an avatar?

An avatar is a consultant substitute for an individual or group. Avatars are generally branded with totally different, proprietary names (such because the Apple Memoji or the Nintendo Mii), however the core thought is that an avatar permits us to mission our identification into a spot the place we ourselves can’t journey, such because the intangible digital sphere. However the idea has a historical past that lengthy predates routers and modems.

The time period “avatar” originates from Hinduism, the place it describes deities transferring their essence into one other type. Basically, Hindu gods would journey to different realms, similar to Earth, by inhabiting a human vessel—the avatar.

Illustrated avatar designs based portraits for a technology company
By Nandatama ✪

A lot later, avatars would return within the creativeness. Tabletop function enjoying video games like 1974’s Dungeons & Dragons would introduce the idea of character creation, through which gamers invent their very own avatars (full with stats and a backstory) to traverse a fictional fantasy world via speech.

An early model of the digital avatars we all know in the present day was launched quickly after the start of the Web, when AOL Prompt Messenger launched “Buddies”—pictures to complement usernames. In 2004, Yahoo! Launched its personal iteration, “Yahoo! Avatars,” which formally fostered the hyperlink between the Sanskrit time period and digital profile photos.

The idea of an avatar was popularized within the 2009 movie Avatar, through which a wheelchair sure marine transfers his consciousness into an alien physique with a purpose to slot in on an alien planet. Though the film was science-fiction, with Neuralink founder Elon Musk repeatedly demonstrating curiosity within the switch of consciousness into computer systems, the science behind the movie might not stay fiction for lengthy…

Stick figure avatar design
By Fabio Fantini

What avatars are used for

Digital avatars can largely be summed up into two precept varieties—the primary of which is essentially what we’ll be discussing all through this text.

Person self-portraits

The most well-liked and most simple avatars have been pictures used on social media profiles, messaging apps, or any on-line service that requires a consultant photograph of a person. Though these are generally static photos, they are often animated, however they don’t lengthen person management (just like the avatars we’ll talk about within the following part). The aim is solely to present customers a face.

Vessels for simulation

Know-how that enables customers to maneuver round simulated environments—similar to a online game or Fb’s Metaverse—additionally requires avatars. As a result of these areas are digital, we expertise them via a digital avatar whose actions we management and whose eyes we see via.

Sports themed cartoon avatar designs
By Warlourd arts

With regards to video video games, it is very important observe that not each online game character you management is an avatar. Video video games can contain storytelling, which suggests you typically management a protagonist. It is a particular character within the recreation’s lore with a particular identify, persona, and backstory. In different phrases, you’re not likely meant to think about these protagonists as extensions of your self—it’s nearer to how you’ll inhabit the attitude of a protagonist in a novel.

3D design of a robot character in a suit

A real avatar is designed as a clean slate for the person to imprint themselves on. In video video games, these are sometimes “silent protagonists,” or protagonists who do not need scripted dialogue outdoors of what you select to have them say. Usually it will have you ever customise their look in a personality creator display, however it is usually widespread for there to be no human design—similar to a go well with of armor overlaying the character or a first-person digital camera that reduces the avatar to a pair of eyes.

VR and the way forward for avatars

Talking of first individual, one of many extra promising makes use of of avatars within the simulation area is growing in virtual reality. VR makes use of a sensory isolation headset with digital projecting goggles to foster a heightened immersive expertise, permitting customers to visualise 3D digital worlds and chat rooms via their avatars. This, for now, is the closest that we will get to an out-of-body expertise like Avatar the film.

At current, the present iteration of VR {hardware} (essentially the most mainstream because the 80s) has been publicly obtainable since 2014. However in comparison with the fast adoption of smartphones, VR has struggled to ascertain itself as greater than a novelty resulting from its cumbersome headsets, inaccessible worth level and tendency to trigger movement illness. Because the expertise will get extra accessible and the digital environments change into extra real looking, it’s attainable VR will reach blurring the digital and the actual world even when Elon Musk’s mind chip future doesn’t come to go.

Illustration showing two people using VR to travel
By lemonGraphy

Avatars and branding

Avatars that signify a model, in addition to its customers, are more and more widespread. That is most likely not stunning as many expertise manufacturers—Google, Apple, and Slack—that contain person profiles and messaging naturally depend on avatars. And creating customized avatars that align with an present model picture not solely helps to maintain a constant look throughout a web site, it might probably additionally assist clients see themselves mirrored in a model.

There’s a pure overlap: avatars and types each search to convey an identification. And assuming the brand personality is knowledgeable by the target market, model and shopper identities shouldn’t be too far off.

Tumblr default branded avatars
by way of Tumblr

Model imagery is usually repurposed into default avatars or placeholders which might be routinely generated when a person first creates a profile. Whereas many default avatars are grey, featureless human silhouettes, Tumblr assigns new customers totally different variations of summary graphics based mostly on its branding.

As default avatars are made to be modified, it’s important to supply customers with a collection of avatars to select from that each one align with a model. This entails hiring a designer who is ready to take your present visual identity and translate that right into a choice of customized avatars.

With that in thoughts, let’s get into how avatar design works.

The follow of character design in creating avatars

Avatars can appear to be made-up characters that we inhabit, however there are key variations between avatar design and character design. To grasp this, let’s briefly outline what characters are (along with another avatar-adjacent phrases).

Illustrated avatar designs of a baby character
By betoartdesign
  • Character: A fictional persona with particular traits which might be created to inhabit a narrative.
  • Mascot: A fictional persona created to signify a model (generally, a sports activities group).
  • Emojis: An imagistic illustration of a selected emotional response. Emojis may be depicted as a face, eyes, a gesture, or perhaps a well-liked meme.

Whereas avatars may be fictional depictions, they’re meant to be consultant of actual individuals. And in contrast to characters (however very like emojis), avatars don’t even should resemble an individual in any respect: they are often inanimate objects or summary shapes. All of it will depend on what sort of picture the person feels exemplifies their persona (versus the singular feelings emojis signify).

However although avatars should not characters within the strictest sense, the character design process remains to be helpful for avatar design—offered you strategy it in a different way.

Abstract character avatar designs
By HannaSymo

Character design is about visible storytelling, portray an image within the viewer’s thoughts of the form of world and background this character comes from. Avatar design is about emphasizing persona—what sort of individual is that this? This makes the target audience research part extra necessary for developing with an efficient idea—in avatar design, the character doesn’t simply should enchantment to an viewers, the character is the viewers.

As a result of an viewers wants choices with a purpose to select the avatar that finest represents them, a number of avatars should be designed. To get the very best consequence—with every avatar wanting like they belong collectively but totally different sufficient to enchantment to totally different viewers members—suites of avatars needs to be designed all on the identical time.

Pirate themed cartoon avatar designs

Moreover, some avatars are designed for personalization. Which means, in contrast to conventional character design, customers are given the instruments to construct their very own character. One strategy is to design a clean base avatar and to design a wide selection of customizable elements, similar to hair fashion, pores and skin shade and equipment, round this base. Then again, some designers will discover it useful to create the completed avatar first and work backward to separate the avatar into interchangeable elements.

Illustrated sports avatar designs
By Heyjuly

Past these concerns, the essential steps of the character design course of—similar to idea, analysis, sketching and rendering—are primarily the identical for avatar design.

Kinds of avatars


Avatars styled after precise individuals are the most typical type. Whereas essentially the most simple is a selfie photograph, humanoid avatars will also be customized illustrated. When offering customized illustrated people, most customers lately will count on avatars are inclusive of a full spectrum of human customers, together with diversities of race and gender. And inclusion needs to be genuine—that means no unnaturally colored characters to recommend range with out truly doing it.

Cartoon avatar designs of human characters
By Mark Rise by way of Dribbble


  • Faces lend themselves to forging robust, interpersonal connections
  • These can remove anonymity, with the very best potential for an correct illustration of an individual
  • Illustrated kinds can vary from real looking to caricature, making these avatars versatile when it comes to age group and professionalism


  • Representing range in customers requires many avatar choices, which might result in extra an costly design and session course of
  • Some customers want to stay out their wildest fantasies via an avatar fairly than to be portrayed as their on a regular basis, offline selves
  • Default human avatars can current a difficulty: it’s exhausting to make them generic sufficient to be racially ambiguous, gender impartial, nonetheless recognizably human and per the fashion of the remainder of the avatars


For the aim of this text, we’ll think about creature avatars to cowl all nonhuman characters. These embody animals, monsters, aliens and different imaginary creatures. Critical or photorealistic takes are typically misplaced right here—usually, these kind of avatars will likely be designed humorously in a cartoon, anthropomorphized trend.

Illustrated avatar designs of a whale character
By Andreask84


  • Many animals (and legendary creatures) have symbolic associations that join readily to persona traits
  • Imaginary creatures present customers with extra inventive self-expression than simple human avatars
  • Cartoon characters are perfect for audiences consisting largely of kids


  • These avatars are taken much less severely—they aren’t excellent for skilled environments
  • As a result of these are nonhuman faces, this supplies much less of an genuine illustration of a person


An avatar can consist solely of the initials of a person’s private identify. Though this can be a simple resolution to an avatar, that doesn’t imply this avatar can’t be inventive when it comes to font kinds or background colours.

Default avatar initials for Dropbox
by way of Dribbble for Dropbox


  • Little time or cash must be invested in hiring a designer and creating a set of customized avatars
  • These avatars are helpful in conditions the place person messaging is a small, nonessential side of the general enterprise, similar to buyer assist chat
  • That is helpful for extra skilled, company settings, the place foolish characters and illustrated depictions would give the flawed impression
  • That is helpful for private branding, getting individuals to affiliate an internet identification with a private identify


  • Outdoors of the background and font styling for the initials, there may be little creativity available on this fashion
  • Despite the fact that it comes from the person’s identify, initials don’t talk a lot concerning the person’s persona


Summary avatars can embody patterns, geometric or natural shapes and precise objects. Whereas these do not need a face related to them, they’ll nonetheless be emotionally expressive when it comes to shape language, color, or the cultural associations assigned to an object.

Identicon abstract avatar designs for Github
by way of Github


  • Though they lack faces, the colour and vitality of an summary composition can induce feelings in a extra primal, gut-feeling means
  • A majority of these avatars are the best to include right into a model’s visible identification, since that may often include summary design components like shade and form
  • Mundane objects can present extra oblique, private characterization out of their regular context; or they’ll leverage humor and irony for a similar cause


  • Whereas colours and shapes talk feelings, you lose the private contact of a face
  • With out a direct illustration of an individual, these avatars are fully nameless

Design for the individual behind the avatar

Avatars are like digital extensions of ourselves. The truth is, they’re typically the one pictures that signify us in sure on-line contexts. This inevitably signifies that the extra on-line our lives get, the extra necessary avatars are sure to change into sooner or later.

Whereas avatars after all can’t signify the total complexity of an individual, they do carry an necessary human aspect to distant interactions. So while you want avatars which might be extra expressive than a badly cropped selfie, think about getting in contact with a contract designer.

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