Does your project need an illustrator?


By Charlie Smith, Founder, Charlie Smith Design  


In the hyper-visual, over-saturated market of 2020, brands are competing for attention. If a hoarding is going to stop you in the street, if a coffee shop is going to draw you in, or if an Instagram post is going to stop you scrolling, it needs to offer something fresh, relevant and enticing.


A growing number of brands are discovering the art of illustration as a way to achieve this. Over the years we have always used a lot of illustration within our work, and it’s something more and more brands are embracing.


These are unique pieces of art commissioned and created specifically for the brand. Whereas photography is better at showing reality, illustration has more scope to convey a brand’s personality, bringing an idea to life, and telling a story that feels authentic, appealing and fun.


A few years ago it was mainly retailers, but now we’re seeing restaurants, cafes, and even property developers exploring the potential of illustration. A line of bland hoardings can do little for a contentious development’s popularity; adding a beautiful illustration celebrating the space’s heritage can show the developer cares and start to shift local opinion.


Illustration is also highliy effective at showing what something will look like in the future. Whereas 3D renders are almost photographic and so realistic that people can take them too literally, illustration can show lifestyle, creating a mood and allowing people’s imaginations to run free.


But perhaps the main reason for its growing popularity is simply that illustration, when done well, is eye-catching. People are simply more likely to take notice of a beautiful illustration than they are a block of text and a pattern.

Illustration done well


So, how do you get it right? First you have to find the right illustrator. You need one who will understand your brand and deliver it through their work. There are illustrators we work with who are perfect for one brand and project but completely wrong for another.


Get a good understanding of their style and process. Look closely at their portfolio and work samples so you are clear on their style then make sure that this matches with your brand and how you want to be perceived.


Next you need to give your illustrator a clear and detailed brief. Let them know what you are trying to achieve, who you want to reach and the message you want to deliver. Think about any reference imagery, text or background information that might help them. Always talk through your brief so you can answer any questions, dispel any confusion, and ensure everyone is on the same page with the same expectations.

Establish the working process. Will they provide a preliminary sketch? How many rounds of amends can you expect? How will the artwork be supplied? How long will you own the license for? Getting these specifics right at the outset can avoid a great deal of trouble in the future. Finally, when you have your illustration and you happy with, resist the temptation to over-use it.  It should become one element in your overall brand and visual identity.


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