What is the purpose of illustration in graphic design

What is an illustration, where does it occur, and why a custom one is super and a template one not so much.

Have you noticed that there are too many illustrations in our lives? They’re on event posters, music album covers, and subway advertising banners, too.

When it comes to the world of branding, it’s a cool tool that makes the finished product friendlier, heartier and closer to the audience. Think of the Dodo Pizza app or box for example: you look at these black and orange pictures and you already get a liking for the brand.

To figure out what magic is behind the result, which the client and consumer like so much (and, of course, to find out if there are cheats and codes) – we turned to our designer Karina. And she suggested we start with the basics.

Illustration – what is it?

It always starts with a pencil sketch and can take different amount of time: it all depends on the details and the client’s request. For example, schematic, but recognizable images are very popular today.

At the stage of defining terms of reference, it’s important to understand that the illustration is not a logo and can’t be one by definition. Its purpose is either to represent a process, which is difficult to explain in words, or to transmit the mood and values of a brand or product. There are clients who don’t see this difference, which leads to problems of “expectation/reality” format, lack of necessary budget and time to do quality work. Agree, it’s not a good situation.

Another important point: illustration is not appropriate in all areas, and this is also important to understand. Somewhere it is not needed by default.

Let’s look at two main segments:

B2C (business-to-consumer).

Illustration is actively used in the book industry (and all areas related to children), food, games and entertainment, and less frequently, in the design of public facilities. In general, it is appropriate wherever there is something that should catch the eye and sell a product through a beautiful picture.

B2B (business-to-business)

This is also where artists and designers are approached to portray services and processes – this makes it easier for the audience to perceive them. Illustration is a godsend for law, logistics, construction, engineering and heavy industry.

Why is it needed?

Many companies face a problem: the same photos, most often stock photos, “walk” all over the field. There are people smiling ear to ear on the lawn in front of the new house, and handshakes of serious people in business clothes, and a team of installers with a thumbs up. Pictures like that make for a meme story.

Problem number two: the process of working in such fields is hard to call attractive and interesting. Try to find a photo of a lawyer at work in a pile of papers that doesn’t make you yawn. In such cases, the only way out is to turn to alternatives.

Taking all of the above into account, there are three main reasons why a brand needs an illustration:

  • To catch the consumer’s eye and convey the right mood
  • To present their goods and services in a new way
  • to differentiate itself from its competitors and be remembered not only in its own market, but also in the social/media environment.

Now to the types.

Today, illustrations are becoming more diverse in type and form of display. Whereas in the early 20th century trends from the art world – art nouveau, monumentalism, surrealism and abstraction – set the style, now it all depends:

  • scope
  • brand positioning
  • the toolkit of the artist.

Let’s turn to the latter. Everything is clear with the hand-made illustrations, where pencils, inks, liners and ink limit the technique and hence the stylistics, but the digital illustration opens a whole new world of possibilities for the designer. Here is where the imagination starts: from primitive raster and vector illustrations to complicated tricky 3D.

Each author’s skills influence the “development” of his illustration: it becomes more colorful, creative and attractive to the client. All thanks to the abundance of all sorts of effects, filters and brushes, as well as the possibility of endless editing and work with superimposed layers (which can also be infinitely many).

Illustration vs. Text, charts, tables

Why did illustration ever enter the market of goods and services and turn from a simple beautiful pictures into a working tool? The answer is a classic one: there is a demand and there is a supply. But if we dig deeper, the illustration has a very important advantage over other types of content: images are perceived by our brains much better than text.

That’s why we consider a large spot much faster, and what it is will largely determine our attitude toward the brand and our future actions. That’s why companies put illustrations on the website, supplement manuals with them, use them in digital products and informational materials, and also promote this direction in every possible way.

Template illustrations: could they do that?

In addition to a beautiful picture on a website or packaging, it’s equally important for a company to take the time that the designer will spend on rendering it. Both time and money are valuable resources, hence they need to be managed. That’s why more and more tool kits are appearing on the Internet that offer ready-made sets of illustrations. It’s a great solution for many brands: it’s cheaper and faster.

Such services work on the principle of a constructor and noticeably simplify the task. But something important is lost in such a process – something that matters to anyone who wants to be remembered by the consumer and set themselves apart from the competition. Uniqueness is lost.


The benefits of custom illustrations

If everyone uses the same set of illustrative elements in a row, you can forget about individuality. And that doesn’t solve one of the key brand problems, which is to stand out and become more recognizable and memorable not only in its market, but also in the media space.

Such a problem can be solved only with custom illustrations, the ones made by hand. Another plus in the piggy bank of uniqueness becomes the author’s visual style of illustrator.

Often, when ordering such an illustration the brand does not pay just for a beautiful picture or an unusual composition, but rather for the unique style, which will become an accent part of the project or the product line. Hence the higher price for custom illustrations. So if you are ready to develop your brand, to rebrand it with a claim for increased recognition, be prepared for the fact that, most likely, you will have to invest.