Cuteness Testing

At Khan Academy, we are designing new characters to fit with our new illustration style. Our new illustration style centers around building worlds and combines patterns, textures, and line drawings. Here’s an image of the before & after:

Because we target a wide range of ages from elementary to life-long learners, it’s challenging to invent characters that are both cute and not childish. Below is the first draft of an illustration I worked on for our unit pages! On the unit page, learners build towers as they practice a skill and earn a crown if they master a skill. We wanted to create an illustration that fit that concept.


The illustration made sense conceptually, but I got feedback that the crown character felt targeted toward younger children. To test for cuteness, I generated some variations in Illustrator using Blend Tool.


Smile size variants
Smile size variants

I realized that smaller mouths feel more 👶 and wider mouths felt a little older. If you look at characters in the Sanrio universe, they usually have pretty small mouths!

Eye Separation

Larger smiles variants

When the eyes are closer together, the illustration feels more mature as well. I think is because the face ratio is more similar to reality

Face Position

Face variants

The more high the face is on the face, the more "cute" the character appears.

Crown Size

Larger smiles variants

When the crown is larger, the character appears younger because it appears as if it is wearing its parent’s clothing. Based on this, I made the crown a little smaller to fit better.

The Result

Here’s the before & after of the character. I changed the mouth size, eye separation, and crown size. Additionally, I removed the sketch brush of the stroke as it felt more like a doodle:

The result

... and here are the other illustrations in the set. As the learner starts learning a unit, the building blocks become a blueprint. When they master an entire unit, they complete their towers 👑!

The result

We've also continued to add additional characters in the same style!

Other characters

Children's Book

Have you seen

my glasses?


What is considered