Posted by Megan Oldcorn
When we talk about a Nixon project or specific client, it’s often illustrations that generate the greatest amount of conversation. Everyone loves good illustration, and when it’s used correctly the impact can be enormous. We’re lucky to have a solid gold list of illustrators to call upon when needed, and often commission and art direct original illustration for our clients.
So why is illustration so valuable? And is it really worth investing in? Stick with us as we reel off just ten (of the many) reasons to choose illustration.
1. Create the impossible
Where circumstances (or straightforward physics) don’t allow for a photograph, illustration can step in to fill the void. Historic events, compilation images or abstract concepts such as dreams, the internet and growth, can all be conjured up in the absence of a camera.
When building a website for Cornwall For Ever!, we commissioned illustrations by Falmouth University students. A particular highlight was Zoe Boltt’s depictions of the Battle for Hill 112, created using plasticine. These were perfect for the site’s audience of schoolchildren, and helped bring the historic event to life.
This approach also came in handy for the 2019 Tresco Times Yearbook, when an illustration by Harry Tennant helped to conjure up the future (but as-yet-unfinished) Penzance Heliport.
2. Brighten a dull topic
Of course, there are also times when photographs exist but they’re simply not much fun to look at. Industries like finance, business and education can suffer from boring, too-literal imagery. We’ve all seen it – here’s a stack of coins representing financial management; there’s a close up of a handshake; here are three people in a meeting. To avoid the corporate ‘blah’, use illustration to liven things up. Even if the net result is an illustrated stack of coins, you can bet it’ll be a quirky, colourful stack, which is at least more engaging.
Earlier this year, The Drum praised artwork created for a University of Huddersfield advertising campaign, while The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute) injects life into a naturally arid area with occasional illustrations.
3. Achieve diversity
Unlike photography, illustration makes it easier to remove details such as gender, race and class to create something inclusive. Gender neutrality or ambiguity creates an even playing field, rather than reinforcing old stereotypes and excluding specific demographics – a practice that’s increasingly leading to consumer backlash.
Because it doesn’t have to be literal, an illustration can show gender-neutral figures or those with rainbow-inspired skin colouring; take Skittles, for example, which worked with the agency Straight Forward to create limited edition packaging for Pride 2019.
4. Show personality
Illustration is a fantastic way to manifest a brand’s personality. Perhaps yours is all about being lively and active; a vibrant, flowing illustration can communicate it effortlessly. Just take a look at the beer cans and bottles featured in this AIGA article (first brought to our attention by developer Anthony in Quarterly Thoughts). Almost all showcase illustration, and this is because it creates something that screams craft and colour. Thanks to the cool, bright colours featured on the labels, it’s easy to imagine the contents bursting with life and flavour.
Illustration can also show the consideration that goes into your product. Ginsters’ revamped packaging range features hand-carved wood engravings by Andrew Davidson, which perfectly bring to life the brand’s heritage, location and commitment to British ingredients.
5. Broaden your focus…
Occasionally, it’s better to provide an impression of something rather than show too much detail. This is often the case with projects such as housing developments, where a photograph can’t be taken but people nevertheless want to see what they’re emotionally (or literally) buying into.
As the UK’s first custom build site, HomeMade Heartlands has an innovative proposition – but one that’s difficult to show through photography. Instead, its marketing features a nifty CGI animation that gives a strong sense of what a typical street scene might look like.
6. …Or narrow it
Alternatively, you can make an illustration far more focused and specific than a photograph by removing details that don’t relate to your message or highlighting those that do. You can even make things unnaturally large or small if you really want to draw attention and hammer home a point.
The illustration accompanying this article about programmatic does just this: human characters are dwarfed by a solitary hand and a mobile phone is far larger than the building it looms above. While manipulated photographs are looked on with the deepest suspicion, illustration is the perfect place to have some fun.
7. Tell a story
We all have an in-built need to process the world through stories. From early childhood, we ‘consume’ these stories, whether they’re in the classic “Goldilocks & Co.” format or more simple statements (“look, the snail is going to see his friend”). Illustration is a key ingredient in many children’s stories – we recognise it and we trust it – and for that reason we all have a nostalgic affinity with the medium.
But even for adults, illustration has a role to play in storytelling. Pictures can be more imaginative and more expressive, and therefore more effective at building up a connection with your audience. Online marketplace Etsy uses illustration to tell at-a-glance stories about its makers and customers.
8. Future-proof your image bank
Photography ages surprisingly quickly, with hairstyles, fashion and even interiors quickly dating an image library. Don’t get me wrong – creative photography is absolutely essential to most brands, but if you need something that’ll last a little longer, opt for illustration.
Of course, even the best illustration can grow tired if it’s used too often and for too long, so it’s good to freshen it up with some new additions every now and then. Starting your image library with a decent handful of illustrations, which can be interchanged as needed, is a great way around this.
9. Simplify the complex
The oft-trotted-out cliché of a picture being worth a thousand words really does hold true, and when explaining complicated processes or concepts, an illustration pays dividends. Flow charts, graphs and infographics can be used to simplify complex ideas, while also livening up potentially dry topics (see point two).
Quorn, the nation’s favourite mycoprotein brand, has gamely taken up the challenge of explaining what on earth mycoprotein actually is and how it’s made. Alongside the description on its website, there’s also an illustrated animation, which breaks it all down in an accessible way.
10. Change it up
One of the most obvious and straightforward reasons to commission illustration is that it adds variety to your marketing. Combining strong photography with on-brand illustration is the key to keeping things interesting.
Our client Latitude50 is a shining example of the value of illustration. We commissioned illustrator Edward Farley to create a series of linocut images, which are creatively peppered through the brand’s marketing, as well as adding standalone impact. Still need convincing? Just head over to the Latitude50 Instagram feed and bathe in its beauty.
Can’t get enough?
To see more examples of how illustration can be used in branding and design, take a look at our work for Mounts Bay Academy, Gaia Spa and Mount Haven.