Avatar design and the way forward for character illustration

In a world the place nameless digital interactions are the norm, an avatar is commonly the one image representing an individual on-line. Not like emojis, memes and precise phrases, an avatar is each a car for expression and a masks, for higher or worse. And as helpful as avatars are in each instances, they’re solely sure to grow to be 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 any case, a selfie is just one sort of the various sorts of avatars on the market. Out of all the potential choices, it may be onerous to know what sort of avatar is acceptable for a given clientele. This problem is just sophisticated by the truth that avatar design must be nonspecific sufficient for use by a large and various vary of individuals, and but—by some means—particular sufficient for particular person folks to really feel prefer it stands for them personally.

Thankfully, good avatar design shouldn’t be as contradictory because it sounds: on this information, we’ll stroll you thru how avatars work and what goes into creating a terrific 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 id into a spot the place we ourselves can not 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, reminiscent of 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 position taking part in video games like 1974’s Dungeons & Dragons would introduce the idea of character creation, by 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 delivery of the Web, when AOL Prompt Messenger launched “Buddies”—photos 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, by 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 sorts—the primary of which is essentially what we’ll be discussing all through this text.

Consumer self-portraits

The preferred and most easy avatars have been photos used on social media profiles, messaging apps, or any on-line service that requires a consultant photograph of a consumer. Though these are generally static photos, they are often animated, however they don’t lengthen consumer 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 permits customers to maneuver round simulated environments—reminiscent of 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 sport’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’d inhabit the angle 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 consumer to imprint themselves on. In video video games, these are sometimes “silent protagonists,” or protagonists who wouldn’t have scripted dialogue outdoors of what you select to have them say. Usually this may have you ever customise their look in a personality creator display, however it is usually widespread for there to be no human design—reminiscent of a go well with of armor masking the character or a first-person digicam 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 creating 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 for the reason that 80s) has been publicly obtainable since 2014. However in comparison with the speedy adoption of smartphones, VR has struggled to ascertain itself as greater than a novelty as a consequence of its cumbersome headsets, inaccessible value level and tendency to trigger movement illness. Because the expertise will get extra accessible and the digital environments grow to be extra reasonable, it’s potential VR will reach blurring the digital and the true world even when Elon Musk’s mind chip future doesn’t come to move.

Illustration showing two people using VR to travel
By lemonGraphy

Avatars and branding

Avatars that characterize a model, in addition to its customers, are more and more widespread. That is in all probability not stunning as many expertise manufacturers—Google, Apple, and Slack—that contain consumer profiles and messaging naturally depend on avatars. And creating customized avatars that align with an current model picture not solely helps to maintain a constant look throughout a web site, it may possibly additionally assist prospects see themselves mirrored in a model.

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

Tumblr default branded avatars
by way of Tumblr

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

As default avatars are made to be modified, it’s important to offer 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 current visual identity and translate that right into a collection of customized avatars.

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

The apply of character design in creating avatars

Avatars can seem to be made-up characters that we inhabit, however there are key variations between avatar design and character design. To know 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 characterize a model (generally, a sports activities crew).
  • Emojis: An imagistic illustration of a particular emotional response. Emojis may be depicted as a face, eyes, a gesture, or perhaps a common meme.

Whereas avatars may be fictional depictions, they’re meant to be consultant of actual folks. And in contrast to characters (however very similar to emojis), avatars don’t even must resemble an individual in any respect: they are often inanimate objects or summary shapes. All of it depends upon what sort of picture the consumer feels exemplifies their persona (versus the singular feelings emojis characterize).

However regardless that avatars should not characters within the strictest sense, the character design process remains to be helpful for avatar design—supplied you strategy it otherwise.

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 section extra necessary for developing with an efficient idea—in avatar design, the character doesn’t simply must 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 have to be designed. To get the very best consequence—with every avatar trying 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 personalisation. 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 components, reminiscent of hair type, pores and skin coloration and equipment, round this base. However, some designers will discover it useful to create the completed avatar first and work backward to separate the avatar into interchangeable components.

Illustrated sports avatar designs
By Heyjuly

Past these concerns, the fundamental steps of the character design course of—reminiscent of idea, analysis, sketching and rendering—are basically the identical for avatar design.

Varieties of avatars


Avatars styled after precise persons are the most typical type. Whereas essentially the most easy is a selfie photograph, humanoid avatars can be customized illustrated. When offering customized illustrated people, most customers as of late will count on avatars are inclusive of a full spectrum of human customers, together with diversities of race and gender. And inclusion must be genuine—which means no unnaturally colored characters to counsel variety with out truly doing it.

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


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


  • Representing variety in customers requires many avatar choices, which may result in extra an costly design and session course of
  • Some customers favor to dwell out their wildest fantasies via an avatar reasonably than to be portrayed as their on a regular basis, offline selves
  • Default human avatars can current a problem: it’s onerous to make them generic sufficient to be racially ambiguous, gender impartial, nonetheless recognizably human and according to the type of the remainder of the avatars


For the aim of this text, we’ll contemplate 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—sometimes, most of these avatars will probably 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 easy human avatars
  • Cartoon characters are perfect for audiences consisting largely of kids


  • These avatars are taken much less severely—they don’t seem to be perfect for skilled environments
  • As a result of these are nonhuman faces, this offers much less of an genuine illustration of a consumer


An avatar can consist solely of the initials of a consumer’s private identify. Though this can be a easy answer 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 consumer messaging is a small, nonessential side of the general enterprise, reminiscent of buyer help chat
  • That is helpful for extra skilled, company settings, the place foolish characters and illustrated depictions would give the incorrect impression
  • That is helpful for private branding, getting folks to affiliate a web based id with a private identify


  • Outdoors of the background and font styling for the initials, there’s little creativity available on this type
  • Regardless that it comes from the consumer’s identify, initials don’t talk a lot concerning the consumer’s persona


Summary avatars can embody patterns, geometric or natural shapes and precise objects. Whereas these wouldn’t have 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
  • Most of these avatars are the simplest to include right into a model’s visible id, since that can often include summary design parts like coloration 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 motive


  • 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 photos that characterize us in sure on-line contexts. This inevitably signifies that the extra on-line our lives get, the extra necessary avatars are sure to grow to be sooner or later.

Whereas avatars after all can not characterize the complete complexity of an individual, they do carry an necessary human ingredient to distant interactions. So once you want avatars which might be extra expressive than a badly cropped selfie, contemplate getting in contact with a contract designer.

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