Although illustration is becoming more and more widespread, people still assume when they hear that I’m an illustrator that I create children’s books. And when I tell them that I primarily illustrate for the marketing departments of museums, theatres and heritage sites, I can see confusion and disbelief as to how that would work.
So why is it that most people associate illustrators with picture books? I believe it’s because those books that we are introduced to as children will stay with us for life and permanently create a link between drawn images and children. Children’s books, however, are only one market of illustration (albeit a large market). In this article, I’m going to look at what illustration is and why it’s a great choice for your next campaign.
What is illustration?
There have been so many books and articles written about what illustration really is. I remember writing about this for my thesis years ago. It appears though that there isn’t an overarching idea that everyone agrees with as illustration is so personal. And that in itself is a point worth noting – the fact that illustration is so personal, makes it a worthwhile marketing tool alone. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I think of illustration as a form of visual communication that sits perfectly in between fine art and graphic design. It has the freedom of expression from the fine art side and the visual problem-solving from the graphic design side. It requires as much thinking as it does creating or drawing.
What is the purpose of illustration?
Because illustration is form of visual communication, I like the idea of exploring it from the perspective of the message it intends to communicate – the purpose it serves. It can be challenging to come up with the perfect categories for this because there are so many overlaps but I’ve decided to break it down to just three core purposes that illustration serves: illustration is able to inform & educate, influence and persuade and build relationships. This makes illustration a more than suitable tool in the world of marketing and design to use for advertising, packaging, book covers, editorial content, maps and more. Let’s take a look at some examples.
1. Illustration informs and educates
A great example of this is an illustrated map. This map of Galapagos Islands is simple but it instantly communicates what this part of the world is most famous for – it’s animals. It’s informative and educational.
2. Illustration can influence and persuade
There are literal and less literal interpretations of this category. The most obvious example is the cover image: book covers, magazine covers, leaflet covers and posters are all designed to prompt you into action – just like the poster design on the left.
Another common example is packaging design that wants you to pick up the item from the shelf (and not the competitor’s). Just think of how often you have bought something just because it looked good or funny – most likely it was illustrated.
3. Illustration can build relationships
I think of this as brand building in the world of marketing. As humans we constantly look for connections and relations. Illustration is a great tool to create a personal brand that has a human factor. Brand illustration is an excellent example of building relationships with illustration.
How does it work?
How does illustration achieve its purposes? There are many tools of the trade but I’ve reduced this to just three main categories.
1. Tellling stories
Storytelling is one of the most ancient ways of communication. In the example on the right, we have Crumple, the wrapping-paper character who decided to conquer the world leaving behind the Christmas scene.
2. Communicating ideas
Another powerful method of attracting attention is to use a concept. The poster illustration on the right is using the idea of a briefcase to imply that the place we are looking at is a hidden gem, a secret garden.
It is the story-telling and the concept that makes illustration so open – anything is possible in a drawn image!
3. Expressing emotions
Finally, the vibe and the emotions – illustration is more able to express or reproduce something with a chosen feeling than any other visual art form.
The image of the imp on the right was made to have a cheeky look but it would not have taken much to produce an image that shows a sinister character. This is largely determined by the style that the illustrator works in.
The vibe of the illustration is vital to its appeal and use and it is key when it comes to addressing an audience. Conveying emotions is one of the most versatile elements of illustration.
Why should you use illustration in your marketing?
Having looked at the vast options that illustration is capable of, it is hardly difficult to see why you should use illustration. The list above fits in easily with most strategies and marketing campaigns.
If you work for an organisation or business, photography might be your default choice. But I’m hoping that the examples above have convinced you that illustration is an equal if not better option for your next campaign. So let’s make a list of what illustration can do for your project:
- Illustration can educate the public about your organisation and inform them about what you do in an engaging way.
- It can help you stand out by adding personality to your project.
- It assists with creating a relationship with your audience and building trust with them.
- When it comes to a message that you want to communicate, illustration has no limits, while a photograph is typically a literal translation of reality.
- If your campaign wants to ride an emotion, you just need to find a suitable style. From humour and satire to serious and thought-provoking images, illustration is capable of communicating a vast range of emotions.
- Are you targeting a specific age-group? Whether you’re trying to attract families, young people or the retired, illustration gives you many different options.
- Bonus point: illustration can be re-purposed. The image is created once and you can use it in different places: in your print materials, on your website and social channels. Do make sure though that you have the licence to do that!
Stock or bespoke
We are all familiar with stock photo sites that also sell illustrations. If you need something quickly that is simple and you find an illustration on a stock site, it could be the right choice for you. However, if the idea is to stand out or your project is complex, sensitive or specific, you are much better off commissioning an illustrator.
The bottom line
Illustration is a form of art that can educate, persuade and build relations. It achieves these goals by telling stories, communicating ideas and expressing emotions through visual images. It is a versatile medium that can be used for a wide range of media, including maps, advertising, packaging, book covers, editorial content, ad campaign and marketing. With its ability to tell a story, convey a message and create a specific vibe with a unique style, illustration is a valuable tool for marketing your project whether you work in education, communication, or entertainment.
If you have a project in mind and are struggling to decide on the right way forward, get in touch. As an illustrator and graphic designer with marketing experience behind me, I’m sure I would be able to provide ideas and guidance for your project and help you decide whether illustration is the right choice for your next marketing campaign.