If you’ve ever stepped foot in an Apple store, you’ve probably noticed the large, softly glowing graphic panels spanning every wall. You may recall Yukai Du’s vibrant and flat illustration from your last visit. Its candy-like color palette and the sharp silhouettes drawn with unusually rosy skin might have caught your eye. The art style used by Du, commonly seen while scrolling through Facebook or viewing the Google Doodle of the day, is not unfamiliar to you. This illustration style has been dubbed the corporate art style, or more pejoratively, ‘Corporate Memphis’.
Characterized by solid coloring, geometric shapes and cartoonish figures with disproportionately lanky limbs, Corporate Memphis has become increasingly ubiquitous since it was first popularized in 2017. While it debuted as a space-filler in social media, websites and SaaS (software as a service) products, the style can now be found as images accompanying website articles and on magazine covers. The style is well received by the majority of consumers and has become the go-to choice of illustration style in marketing and user interfaces. However, its omnipresence has spurred criticism for its apparent shift away from more intricate, detailed illustrations to what critics deem to be generic and uninspired.
The exact origins of Corporate Memphis are unclear. Some credit its creation to Alice Lee, an independent illustrator who partnered with Slack to design 40 illustrations for their website and platform. She has remarked that she was influenced by Mary Blair’s Disney concept art in the process of creating these warm and whimsical figures. Others credit BUCK, the design firm that created the style guide, illustration, and animation system called Alegria for Facebook’s ecosystem. Corporate Memphis is also said to be the illustrative analogy to the 80’s post-modernist design movement Memphis. Corporate Memphis’ geometric forms, along with its highly contrasted and bold color style are similar to that of Memphis furniture designs. Additionally, the way figures are warped in Corporate Memphis is reminiscent of how Memphis designers depict everyday objects in unusual ways.