Ever tried to source stock images of reasonable quality, without white people in them? Looking for illustrations with Indian/South Asian people and context is even harder.  Strategic design studio Obvious, hopes to address this through the launch of ‘Sub-Continental’ – an open source library of illustrations with environments and avatars related to India (currently) and other South-Asian countries (to be launched).

The Obvious team says that the need for relevant and contextual illustrations goes well beyond aesthetic considerations. Text is still a barrier, especially in products meant for the next billion. Users will always attempt to interpret a visual, instead of reading text. Ensuring that they are able to do this quickly and correctly, is critical for product success.

Sub-Continental currently contains commonly used avatars like families and urban/rural men and women, as well as different professions, from policemen and delivery personnel, to vegetable vendors and coconut sellers. The avatars have Indian facial shapes, which are quite different to those found in the Western world. The library also includes people from different Indian states, dressed in celebratory costumes for clear identification.

The environment templates include settings like classrooms, hospitals and cafes and are nicely detailed and textured. In a departure from the typical pastel hues of stock images, the colour palette in Sub-Continental is bright but not jarring. 

Uniquely Indian elements like mopeds and Nilkamal plastic chairs have been incorporated in the templates and even the visual of a plug conforms to the familiar Indian shape and not its Western counterpart.

Team Obvious says that they have tried hard to ensure that the illustrations were nuanced, but there was no stereotyping.

How to Use Sub-Continental

The library has been launched on Figma so that it can be constantly updated. You can download the files here.

You can select an avatar and customise features like hairstyle, skin colour, facial expression, emotions, pose, clothes, colours, etc.  You can then start building the environment around this avatar, using templates like classrooms or cafes.  All the smaller components in these environments can be altered or replaced with other objects found in the library. Obvious has also published a guide, with basic instructions.

Sub-Continental is free to use for personal and commercial purposes. In accordance with the Creative Commons License, please do include an attribution for Obvious when you use a file from the library.

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