In a recent meeting with a potential client I was quite taken aback to be asked, with genuine sincerity: “What is illustration?”
With the only answer coming to my lips sounding quite obvious; “it’s drawing”, I found myself scrabbling, and perhaps failing, to find the words to articulate why illustration isn’t just a ‘nice to have frill’ but in fact a key ingredient to our success.
There is rarely a job we work on that doesn’t involve illustration of some sort, whether it be a quirky set of bespoke icons for a home page or a beautiful infographic in a report, we know that bespoke illustration can be the jewel in the crown of a good design.
Now I’ve had a little more time to think, I’ve put together five examples of projects where you might not consider illustration to be important:
1. Brand identity
We need a logo, not a bunch of pretty drawings.
Are you sure? With the risk of sounding like a broken record, a brand is so much more than just a logo. How far you take your brand development is up to you, but it’s foundations will usually include brand colours, fonts and graphic styles. It’s likely that sooner or later you will require some illustration, and when you do you’d be wise to ensure those illustrations fit in with your brand style and personality. And who better to do that than the designer who created your brand for you and knows it inside out. (If they can illustrate of course.)
A good example of this can be seen in our brand development for Sussex Wildlife Trust. As part of our brand development for them, we developed a sketchy hand drawn ‘field sketch’ style which reflects their mission to connect people with nature. This gives their branded assets such as membership leaflets and brochures a unique brand feel:
2. Diagrams and information
Our subject matter is technical and we need to be taken seriously. A designer that can illustrate isn’t important.
Wrong. When you’re trying to present dry and complex information, a talented designer with illustration skills couldn’t be more suited. If you’re going to invest in having that annual report designed and printed professionally, don’t go and ruin it with graphs and tables that look like they’ve been screen grabbed straight from excel.
Taking complex ideas, facts and figures or diagrams, and finding ways of illustrating them in a clear and easy to understand way is a valuable skill. A skilled designer with strong illustration skills can help translate complex concepts or statistics into a format that your audience is able to understand and engage with.
We just want our website to clearly describe what we do. That’s just about the copy isn’t it?
You can have a website with three paragraphs of expertly written copy on your homepage if you like, but chances are visitors won’t hang around to read it.
Alternatively you could break up that information into easy to understand chunks, each with an eye catching icon that entices your visitor to stay and read on.
But there are tonnes of free-to-download icons sets out there, right? Well, yes and if your budget is tight you can use one of these sets, but you do run the risk of using a recognisable set of icons that your competitors are using too – making your site feel templated and not unique to your brand. Also, like most businesses, you probably have a business model thats unique to you, as-well as having unique processes or offerings, so it’s unlikely that you’ll find everything you need in a standard set of icons. Commission a set of custom icons unique to your brand and stand out from the crowd.
Whats more, designers that know their stuff can often create icon fonts, which makes them really easy to use and can be implemented by your web developer. This is something we often do with great results.
My competitor has an explainer video – it looks really impressive. I need an animator don’t I? Not an illustrator?
Not necessarily. Animators are great at animating (making things move), but they may not know your brand as well as your designer does. If you’ve followed our advice and chosen a designer with strong illustration skills, then all you need to do is speak to them. They can help you come up with the creative concepts that are right for your brand, and they’ll be able to produce all the illustrated assets to provide to an animator who can then focus on bringing it all to life.
5. Add character
One of the easiest ways to make sure your brand captures the attention of your target audience is to give it personality, in quite a literal sense.
Introducing a brand character (or even a set of them) is a sure fire way to instantly inject personality into your brand.
The fact is, that despite the abundance of lovely and quite reasonable stock illustration available online, it will never be unique to your brand. The reason these illustrators can afford to sell their work this cheaply is because they rely on selling it more than once, and they won’t mind who they sell it to.
The beauty of developing a brand illustration style is that it helps aid recognition of your brand. Every time you use a stock illustration that’s different from the last it dilutes and cheapens your brand, and leaves your audiences confused.
So if you want my opinion, illustration is an important string to any designer’s bow. It’s more than just drawing; as a client you’ll benefit from an excellent understanding of brand and layout, combined with an injection of character and a bespoke look and feel. Plus you’ll be grateful for the talent of a ‘visual translator’ who can create engagement and aid understanding using beautiful brand appropriate illustrations.