10 reasons to use illustration

By Toward,

July 2014


Here at Toward projects of all shapes and sizes come through our doors. We work with customers that have different goals, audiences and resources. As a graphic designer my job is to communicate what the client wants to say in a visual and engaging manner. I love to draw and so many of my projects take an illustrative route—which makes me very happy.

When tasked with a new project I always carefully consider the best way to answer the brief. On some occasions it will be answered typographically or perhaps with the use of photography, but I want to talk about reasons why I believe custom illustrations can sometimes be the best solution to a problem.

Illustration – Competitive Cost

1. Competitive Cost

One thing attached to every project is a budget and this gives me a good idea of how much time I have. The money can be spent in several ways and people tend to think that custom illustration costs the world. Sure, it doesn’t come cheap, but nor do the alternatives. If the client hires a good photographer or even uses quality stock photography, these can often end up costing much more. Custom illustration that is created specifically for a piece of work can be surprisingly affordable.


2. Alternative to Stock Assets

If a client has no decent photography and a story to tell, stock photography is often a useful resource for designers. We’ve all been there and we all recognise the familiar faces, whether it’s the clichéd handsome businessman inviting you to shake his hand or the elderly couple having the time of their life on an unbranded laptop. Many of these photographs and vectors have been massively overused and have no exclusivity whatsoever. Custom illustrations can be the perfect alternative, as you get an outcome that is tailored to the project’s needs.

It is also worth mentioning the hoops you have to jump through to use stock photography. You may be asked where you will be using the image, what size, for how long, the target audience, etc. All these will help calculate a price, but even then you don't have complete ownership. A significant advantage of buying custom illustration is that once you've paid for it, it's yours to use however or whenever you like.


3. Bringing Photography to Life

Designers are often supplied with photography; sometimes it can be great but often it's pretty poor. Either way if the images are going to be used there may be an option to inject some personality by combining them with some carefully considered doodling. We’ve done this on several projects including Whitgift Care which had fantastic custom photography. A great example of this is the Tassimo website — an e-commerce website containing several types of generic looking coffee machines. The products are designed to be fast, simple and make a damn fine cup of coffee so the designers added some quirky little touches that give the website a completely different look and feel.


4. Telling a Story

We all love a good story, but the way it is told can make it or break it. For a story or message to be successful it must be engaging and understandable. Milton Glaser once described illustration as “the act of making a narrative clear” and it has proved to be very powerful throughout the ages. For example, if you’re telling a story on a webpage you may only have a few precious seconds (if that) to get the user's attention and keep it, so you need to make it count. Illustration can do this by creating a engaging and informative narrative.


5. Show off a Brand's Personality

Too often brands limit themselves to their restrictive brand guidelines. If you stick to them religiously, before long things will get a little stale and very predictable (but that’s another topic for another blog post). Many moons ago we rebranded the Seren Group — a company made up of lovely people who support others. Over the years we have evolved this brand, aiming to keep things fresh and stay true to their values. In many ways the brand wasn’t about the colours or the corporate typeface, it is about the people. We reflected this through their printed and digital materials by creating a suite of stylised characters called the Seren people. Based on real human beings, they communicated key messages in an unconventional, yet charming way.


6. No Limits

One of the beauties of illustration is that you can literally draw anything, as Bryn has demonstrated brilliantly in recent weeks — the only limit is your imagination. One of my favourite illustrators, Jamie Mitchell is a perfect example of this, as you can see from his incredible portfolio. I mean how else would you capture a polar bear in a yellow bobble hat? This kind of route can be great for concept lead work, where messages can be conveyed through metaphors or in a more abstract fashion.


7. Display Data

Collecting data is so important when companies are measuring their success and thinking strategically about the future. This data can easily stack up in mountains of spreadsheets, making it time-consuming and tedious to review and find ways to improve. A powerful way to convey these figures is through infographics. Infographics are very popular and on trend at the moment and for very good reason. When done well they can give order to complex data, making it easy for the audience to digest. Here's some graphics we recently created for Sport Wales.


8. Stand out from the Crowd

These days everyone has a HD camera in their pocket and the ability to take postcard-esque photographs (with a little help from their favourite filter), so we’re becoming increasing used to seeing lovely photography. There are countless attractive websites that consist of a beautiful background image accompanied by some white sans-serif text. Original illustration offers an opportunity to do something that can help clients stand out from the crowd, creating a more unique and refreshing experience for their audience.


9. Style that's Tailored to the Content

One of the great things about illustration for me personally is that it's challenging. The demand to execute different styles for a range of projects can be difficult, frustrating and fun, all at once. We always get to know the client, product or service really well before we start designing—this way we fully understand who or what we're designing for. This really helps the illustrative process and we can start to carve out a style that really suits the content. We're currently working on an exciting new project for an awesome Asian takeaway and from several initial meetings we discovered the look and feel the client wanted and its taken a very hand drawn approach. Using hand rendered typography and illustrations we're very happy with the direction, above is a sneak peak.


10. Humour, Charm and Engage

There are some extremely important topics and messages out there that need to be delivered to the world. The way they are delivered can determine the degree of action taken. Illustration allows you to do things differently and perhaps get away with things other crafts could not. Even with serious issues, being facetious can be an effective communication tool. One of my favourite examples of this is ‘Let’s Talk Turkey’ — the website addresses serious issues within the food industry. It could have used horrific photographs or bold typography, which most people would have ignored. Instead they take the user on a light-hearted and humorous journey through the life of a factory turkey. It’s not pleasant, but has proven to be successful with many users reading on and making a pledge.


Every project has different requirements and I'm not saying that illustration is always the best option. It can certainly be a really effective solution to many problems and can often be overlooked. So, next time your working on a project give illustration some thought.