Learn how and why we create octocat illustrations to bridge our content, iconography, and other visuals for a more unified marketing message.
Our octocat illustrations will always focus on Mona’s story, directly or tangentially, to support our marketing and brand efforts. However, Mona does not need to to be in each illustration, and we recommend that she is not. It’s more important to show the vast world she lives in to emphasize the larger community when possible.
The visual narrative is inspired from real life scenarios and experiences of developers everywhere, told through the lens of “Mona’s Universe”. Yes, human developers write code, but that isn’t visually exciting and limits the stories we tell to a workstation. Instead, lean into physical activities like building a robot or the impact the software has on others. Please adhere to “Mona’s Story” and “GitHub Values” when combining with desired messaging to communicate to our audience.
Our illustrations use a combination of fills and strokes to create versatility. The majority of the composition utilizes low contrast fills with a limited amount of incorporated strokes for characters.
Color is used sparingly. Full color elements are limited to objects central to the messaging and story.
This style also blends geometric and organic shapes. This dichotomy gives a sense of balance. The opposing shapes complement each other in subject, but contrast visually. The soft fill background values will differentiate from the saturated character strokes. Use this as a means to guide the eye towards the focal point.
Each illustration includes four primary components: octocats, tech, background scene elements, and sometimes patterns. When designing, keep in mind:
Octocats are drawn in outlines with a stroke value of
2px. The stroke colors work inversely (see Color section below)—hues and values are very light or dark depending on the background. Without the fill these character designs lack visual weight. In order to draw attention, high contrast is necessary.
Tech objects that octocats interact with should be displayed in color if they are the central focus. These objects will be the high point for saturation. Keep in mind this should make up a small percentage of the illustration. The artwork is meant to be complementary to category articles, so avoid full color compositions.
Background elements Employ the cool gray palette from Primer for supplemental scene elements. Try not to clutter the background with unnecessary items. Less-is-more in this scenario.
Patterns are used to give a planar effect, emphasizing the flat illustration style. Patterns are not required in every illustration.
Framing the illustration can be done a few ways. Choose a style that best supports the content, but doesn’t distract from it.
Full frame: The illustration reaches all four edges of the composition. This method is often used when the background color is full bleed.
Partial frame: Cropping background items around the edge is permitted and will imply the perimeter of the illustration. Some backgrounds are naturally more structured with walls framing content. This will maintain an open layout and avoid feeling boxed in.
Transparent frame: This one is all about the characters. There is no evident edge of the design. The characters will sit on the background of the page.
Octocats represent developers. If simplicity is the goal, use one octocat. If the scene needs to convey teamwork, then it’s necessary to show more than one. The maximum number of octocats in an illustration should never exceed three.
Octocats are generally two heads tall, but use this only as a foundation. All octocats are unique, so feel free to squash and stretch—we want to have diversity in Mona’s world. But realize there is a breaking point where it ceases to be an octocat, so err on the side of minimal changes. Be aware of the model limits.
Octocats are versatile, malleable creatures—literally and figuratively. Their elastic tentacles change shape to match any problem. They can be posed and dressed as bipeds to draw a clear connection to human behavior, but be careful not to limit too much.
Octocats have five tentacles. These can be used as three legs and two arms, or two legs with three arms. They often have “elbows” or “knees,” but not exclusively. Generally it helps anthropomorphize poses, but we don’t want to imply tentacles have rigid bones.
Always make sure that all five tentacles can be seen.
When using a three-legged configuration of tentacles, always place the third tentacle is in the back, centered.
Tentacles taper from slightly thinner at the the octocat’s “neck” to a slightly bulbous tip. This tip becomes a hand or a foot, depending on their purpose in the illustration. When used as feet, they have a “toe flap,” except when seen at full profile (see examples).
Tentacles have three oval-shaped suction cups that are only seen on the flatter underside of each tentacle. Use suction cups to illustrate which side of the tentacle is being seen.
Facial expressions are limited at best. This style does not use eyes or mouths, so any expression will need to be physical.
There is a brow line that can be used for slight expression, but use sparingly.
Octocats are always drawn with no fill and do not obscure objects/props they interact with or are in front of. Objects always obscure octocats, and octocats obscure themselves and other octocats.
All strokes have square caps except the end of the whiskers, which have round caps. Whiskers protrude from the check outside of the “mask” and should be cheated so that they always leave the confines of the face, making them visible in silhouette (except when in full profile). When possible, ears should also leave the silhouette of the head—if it’s close, cheat it!
Hubot is an octocat’s trusty robot sidekick. Although not necessary to scenes, Hubot can be added as tech to be worked on, or a robot butler lending a hand. While octocats represent the human developers, Hubot represents the power of technology as a tool and should act as a “straight man” foil to an octocat’s playful inquisitiveness. When used in a scene, always respect their physical proportions:
Hubot’s forearms are separate objects than its body, connected by an electric plasma. When bending its arms for posing, its “elbow” should be at the connection of the plasma and the forearm. These arms can be completely disconnected and worked on by octocats, with the plasma turned off.
When “on”, Hubot hovers using a thruster. When “off”, Hubot can sit on the floor.
When trying to quickly tilt Hubot’s head forward or backward to “look” at something specific, a quick trick is to simply move the visor up or down on the head rather than redrawing the entire 3D shape. Notice on the ⅔ perspective in the model sheet how Hubot is “looking down” just a bit—the placement and shape of the visor does most of that work.
When used in the background as set dressing, Hubot should be left in greyscale and adjusted to fit general composition.
When Hubot is the “Featured Tech” that the central octocat of an illustration is interacting with it (or, for example, just the part being worked on) Hubot can be colored, based on model-sheet above.
For every scene, we employ a unified visual vernacular that adheres to specific design principles. These signature shapes tie the various scenes together creating uniformity and believable world. It can be used in almost any design element—from architecture to botany. The idea is to “feel” them more than see them.
The Primer color system is used universally on dot com. To maintain brand consistency, please use that palette as a framework:
From Primer, we prioritize four colors:
To bring those colors together, follow these guidelines
ProTip: Try combining yellows and oranges for subtle dimension.
Just like developers love a good dark mode in their terminal and editor, we love a good dark mode for octocat illustrations. As there are no definitive rules on which direction to choose and when just yet, please defer to your project briefs and Design partners to identify if light (default) or dark mode works best for your project.
No matter the style you choose, you must adhere to these color guidelines.
Both light and dark mode has their own three-color background palette. After deciding on light or dark mode, choose a background color option that best tells the scene’s story. Dark blue helps set a night scene, while light blue can hint at a brighter sky or object.
Place octocats over the darkest color to help maintain legibility.
Stroke color depends on light or dark mode. For optimum contrast, we brighten the stroke for dark mode.
Also, keep in mind the stroke weight for foreground octocats is 2pt. Background octocats stroke weight should be 1pt.
Other characters can utilize the full color palette but always default to the orange/yellow palettes when possible. That end of the spectrum harmoniously pairs with the large swaths of blue.
Any foreground props that utilize the saturated coloring render style should be treated the same in either light or dark mode. It’s mainly the background and octocat colors that are altered. Keep in mind that dark mode provides higher contrast relationships between the prop and background colors. Balance is important—make sure the colors are spread evenly so as to not unintentionally draw the eye to heavily into one spot.
For objects that are being handled and manipulated by octocats, these will follow regular perspective construction (one or two vanishing points). Other additional objects are flatter in perspective, and far background buildings and objects are flat.
Titles can be used to support the underlying copy. Ensure that font choices don’t conflict and that the text does not muddle the composition.
Simplicity: It’s very easy to add unnecessary subjects to the illustration. Use what’s needed and toss the rest.
Tech: Incorporating any type of technology will do a few things: avoid coming off too suburbia and tie it back to software development. This is especially helpful for more nostalgic scenes. For example, a gardening metaphor with open source.
Repetition: Reusing objects will provide consistency between scenes. While an asset library isn’t necessary, it’s good to consider when building out scenes.
When storing files please be sure to store both:
All files should be stored in the Dropbox Creative Department folder.