Unforgettable images: The importance of illustration for brands

What if you could use illustration to make your brand unforgettable?

By Catherine Lin, Principal Designer

Visitors admire the holographic projections in the immersive Van Gogh exhibit.

For thousands of people, the announcement of a 2019 horror film based on Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark brought back memories of unforgettable illustrations from the popular 1981 children’s book series. Talk to anyone who read the books as a kid, and they’ll recount for you how they couldn’t look away from Stephen Gammell’s masterful drawings of everything spooky, from ghosts to graveyards.

Statistically speaking, you’re probably not in the market to scare (yet mesmerize) your audience for years to come. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a prime example of illustration and storytelling used so effectively that it impacted a generation, but it’s not the only example. Can you bring to mind the following images? The original iPod ad. The cover of Where the Wild Things Are. The deep blue wave overpowering tiny boats in The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

What if you could use illustration to make your brand unforgettable?

What is illustration?

Illustration is broadly defined as pictures used to explain a concept. Some of its modern-day professional use cases include editorial artwork, advertisements, and instructional graphics for onboarding. But the creation of pictures is an ancient human art. The horse cave paintings in Lascaux, France, are famous illustrations from 19,000 years ago. 19,000 years! The desire to distill complicated realities, elevate ideas, and beautify objects is deeply ingrained in humans.

Four different cave paintings depicting a horse, a cow, an elk or deer, and a bull

Cave paintings using mineral pigment in Lascaux, France. The art could be up to 20,000 years old and shows nearly 2,000 figures of animals, humans, and abstract signs. (Source: Bradshaw Foundation)

When we draw what we see, we create a simplified interpretation of what’s in front of us. It has the power to make the complex feel simple, approachable, and relatable. It’s what blueprints do for construction workers, what maps do for drivers, and what anatomy charts do for doctors and patients.

Despite its historical importance, illustration isn’t always taken seriously. Some shy away from using it because it feels “childish” or “immature.” It’s true that not every project is suited for illustration, but it’s shortsighted to dismiss art’s ability, even in children’s books, to navigate things that few of us have words for. Death. Sadness. Including others who feel left out. These are real happenings that we use pictures to help children cope with while adults spend their entire lives trying to comprehend them.

Don’t underestimate the power of art. A great pitch can convey the vision of your business and engage others—so, too, can illustration. If created with care and used correctly, illustration can be powerful, even unforgettable.

The power of pictures

Here’s a quick look at some advantages of illustration:

  • Explains complexity succinctly. As Edward Tufte points out in his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, a graph has the ability to show thousands of data points in a single view, instantly delivering meaning and impact. Similarly, teaching concepts to others, such as population demographics or how the stock market works, can be achieved with a simple drawing.

Chart with 12 line drawings of people with different forms of disabilities

Disabilities are varied and unique, but this minimalist chart (called the Persona Spectrum) from Microsoft reminds designers of the daily realities their customers face. (Source: Microsoft)

  • Bridges difficult or sensitive subjects. While photography can convey realism, it can feel insincere at times, especially when trying to visualize something that’s abstract or can’t be seen, like feelings or memories. For example, a patient’s personal experience with cancer may bring up emotions that can’t be fully expressed with words, but are able to depicted with abstract pictures.

Artistic depiction of a blue woman walking through puddles, followed by a large red hand

Giant Ant, an animation studio, chose a fluid art style for a story about a woman’s experience after an operation on her brain to treat epilepsy. Created for Invisibilia, a NPR radio program. (Source: Vimeo)

  • Unlimited colors and styles. You can draw with just about anything, from traditional art materials to creative software, even food. With such a range of mediums, you can choose anything from a full-color painting to a minimalist design with your brand colors. The flexible use of color and ability to create any composition you want opens the door to evoking the right emotions from your audience. Google, for instance, uses different hues of red, blue, yellow, and green that feel positive and inviting. Their joyful illustrations help their apps look approachable and add appeal to the overall user experience.

Google Goals app is depicted on three phone screens

Google Goals use illustrations by Owen Davey that embody brand principles in multiple ways. Not only do they work within a color range similar to Google’s logo, they’re specifically placed to deliver encouragement when users look at their Google Calendar, just like a personal assistant. (Source: Medium)

The possibilities are endless. Illustration is an investment of time and skill, but the creation of pictures is one of our most important expressions as humans. It’s an impression of our own observations and conclusions about a subject. What lasting impression are you ready to make?

To find out more about how we can extend your brand presence, whether with illustration or other styles, get in touch. We’d love to talk!

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