Freelance illustrator Adrian Cartwright give 5 clever ways to illustrate an idea.

Clever ways to illustrate an idea.

Planet illustration studio company blog 018 / Clever ways to illustrate an idea.

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Clever illustration ideas

14th July 2015

"A picture can say a thousand words"
Careful consideration is needed, so they say the right words.

Illustration is at the heart of ideas, for instance the term "illustrate" is often used when describing something, so it makes sense that if you've got an idea that you want to share, you use an illustration. Drawings can accompany words to create a graphic image that supports the message, but sounds or animation also illustrate a message too. So why do it?

Explaining an idea or concept can be difficult to convey to others, whom perhaps aren't as technical or as knowledgable, and today's customers, and perhaps your audience aren't always ready to invest their time or effort in learning about the subject. A simple image or heading can capture their attention, but for how long… before they're distracted by a Twitter notification or similar.

Dumbing down your message can simplify it, a bit like a strap line or heading that's trying to capture your interest. But an image is more universal and it stands out from blocks of text.
If your illustration need is complex, then a story or process might be a carefully crafted illustration that draws you in with details that enlighten the viewer the more they study the illustrators work of art. Technical illustrations on the cover of a Haynes manual are a perfect example of intricate illustration.

Author: Adrian Cartwright illustrator Contact

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Then there's the London Underground rail network map commonly known as the "Tube map". Famous and copied around the world for similar networks and even as conceptual schematics and infographics.
It's a very effective diagram in essence, with little relationship to real geographical features like twists and turns. But it's become iconic and an essential map when navigating London's underground, because it works. It's simplicity in concept is the key element.
Looking at it, it's quite a complex structure, that needs some effort to study it, and find your position, but once you've located where you are, it's simply a matter of following the colour line you're on.
"A picture can say a thousand words" Careful consideration is needed, so they say the right words.

Here's 5 clever ways to illustrate an idea you might have…

1/ Guides or "How to illustrations"
are informative and instructional in nature, and require a level of clarity especially in areas where misunderstanding, could cause harm and loss of property or expense. So do they need to be sober in application? No they don't, I’ve often found that adding some humour to instruction helps to get the message across, especially to users who’ll normally ignore instruction, or feel lectured and told off, for instance in a safey poster. Caution is needed, as there’s a fine line between patronising, leading to ignoring and informing and making the reader feel empowered with the new knowledge they've just learnt.

If you can keep the humour unbiased, for instance a situation where there’s two types of staff that need to work together, but there’s tension within their working relationship. Make sure you depict them with equal amounts of humour and if you make one a victim, try to reverse it in the next scene.
But if the guide is aimed at Workers and the scenes involve a Manager and Worker, side with the Workers to help get the message across to the Workers who you're siding with. This can be difficult, if it's the Managers who are commissioning the illustration.
Like the world over, there’s always someone who’ll take some form of offence, but when making fun out of a situation, keep it light unless you want a reaction.

How to illustrations merge slightly onto the next chapter looking at “Step by step”, but they can simply be a single image with a single message. This area of illustration draws into the icon style of illustration, where a simple image indicates an obvious action or item. I’ve done a lot of work in this area in the 25 years as a freelance illustrator, and there’s always one icon commission that comes to mind.

It was for a battery manufacturer, who wanted to show 10 icons showing typical items that would use their batteries. As you can imagine, there’s not a lot of space on a AAA battery, and the finished print size for each icon was 1.5mm square. I had to design and illustrate along with other items, a remote control car… as an illustrator, we’re always looking at detail, but this was a different challenge. To design a graphic or icon identifiable at a tiny size and to sit with others along side it. I recall a torch, MP player, Camera and others to design.
In this situation the illustrator (me) had to be careful to consider the effects of printed images at that size, 300dpi (300 dots per inch) was thankfully the screen resolution, similar to magazine print clarity of print. Some printing on plastic and other surfaces can cause bleed, and requires the resolution to be lower like 150dpi, making for a less detailed print.
The illustrations had to work at a size 1.5mm by 1.5mm. I had to cross reference the image being created in Adobe illustrator and viewing it as a pixelated image in Adobe Photoshop. This allowed me to tweak the illustration, working with small suggestions of a line rather than a line, to get the best results.

How to illustrations can cover a wide range of styles, with only one requirement, to be understood. This is where a clean style is always an advantage, and there are many considerations when commissioning an illustrator, like application of the finished image, ie where it’ll be viewed and how it will be used. Even things like the environment, for instance need to be considered, if it’s a Health and Safety guide or instruction, for an emergency fire evacuation protoco. It would need to be viewable in dim visibility. There are many considerations when commissioning an illustrator, but if you’re thinking of doing so, please read my guide to Briefing an illustrator, it will help you to avoid mistakes and speed up the process. How to brief an illustrator

2/ The "Before & After illustration"
is a simple concept that's effective. If you're struggling to think of the concept, let me illustrate..! You have a fantastic product, that is better than the previous one. But how to show it? A comparison quickly identifies the differences highlighting the pros and cons in the illustration. A physical rendition also sticks in the mind, and we relate to it. And that means trust!
We're quick to promote things that we trust and believe in. This is a very effective way to promote something, and winning advocates to you product or idea is invaluable. An illustration also gives ideas credibility displaying that it's feasible and could actually exist in a real world.

I strongly suggest that you discuss this concept with your illustrator, listening to their ideas is essential to make the best illustration or image for you.
Feel free to contact Adrian Cartwright - Lead illustrator at Planet for an informal chat to see how we can help you. Contact

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3/ "Step by step illustrations"
is a classic method, and is used all over the world, however some and mostly over confident men, you know the ones, see the instructions to assemble the cabinet and are put off by the amount of information to digest. They simply throw the instructions over their shoulders, assured that they can work it out. It’s a false economy at the end, considering they have to un-assemble it three times to finally get it right. Then there’s others who’ll simply suffer their mistake in silence, convinced that the manufacturers product is rubbish. There is a reason companies go to the expense and time to make instructions.

Now not everyone is allergic to instructions, but with the best intentions, they simply don’t fully understand them. So creating clear detailed instruction that cover every possibility can make the step by step instructions huge and a vast book of text, diagrams and photos that help to develop a allergy to instruction. Back to the drawing board !
While worldwide commerce attracts nearly all manufacturers, but producing printed instructions in multiple languages is costly. Many years ago I was commissioned to produce assembly instructions for a Point of sale display stands for Parker Pens. The cabinet in question would be packaged and shipped out to over 30 countries and assembled on the shop floor. I was commissioned to illustrate assembly instructions without using letters or numbers.
An exploded view was the most effective way to design the illustration.

Another good way around over complicated instructions is to place each step on the part that needs fitting first, and numbering the parts in the order of the steps... 1, 2, 3.... That way the user is learning each step one at a time. The person assembling the “Chair” for instance can’t toss the instructions away, so is continually prompted when handling the chair.
Colour coding the elements in the instruction illustration is a helpful idea too, if you’re printing in colour.

Ultimately it’s about preparation and making it as easy a possible to understand and encourage good practice. I often think, that instructions should include rewards… like “Well done, take 5 minute break and make yourself a cup of tea”. Or Congratulations for following our instructions and helping us make one of the best chairs, now take a photo of your masterpiece and upload it to our site for a chance to win…. a Speedboat for instance.
OK I’m probably getting carried away, but making the customer feel happy is part of the way they’ll feel about your product.
"It’s been emotional, but we made it. Well done!" Should be on all instructions, and that’s coming from someone who makes them.

As the internet is becoming accessible to most people you want to do business with, it makes sense to consider on-line manuals for many reasons, or at least offering one. Why? well unless you’re printing in full colour, something that’s not always the case, you have the options of colour, animation and updates. You can also have log-in accounts, so you can keep your customer informed of recalls, updates, service intervals or possibly additional items that might enhance the item they’ve bought from you with some up selling. Worth considering for future customer development.

4/ "Conceptual drawings and sketches"
are perfect for technical ideas which accompanied with spoken words in a video or online blog. Animation or simply drafted cartoons can work well, but avoid funny joke images if you're promoting something serious.

In essences, conceptional illustrations are artist impressions of something that doesn't exist or they illustrate an idea or concept to help show or share with others. The approach can vary, sometimes to professionals or experts in a certain field, which needs a level of understanding, something I've enjoyed doing over the years, helped with a big appetite to learn about new things. Or the illustration might be focused towards laymen to help educate a new concept.

Concepts are often work in process, so I suggest producing illustrations that are easy to update or adjust for potential tweaks. Planet has always been mindful of this. Ask any established professional illustrator, as it's quite often the case with all commissions for an illustration.

Artist impressions are often associated with visuals of physical things like an exhibition stand visual, of which I've done many, and Architectural drawings to convey a design and sometimes the environment it's situated in.
When I started planet illustration back in the nineties my illustration company was illustrating Architectural illustrations like Artist impressions of Houses, street scenes and floor plans most weeks, and back then all but the floor plans were traditionally illustrated carefully drafted out in pencil on a drawing board, then using watercolours to bring the very technical looking illustration into life.
Planet still gets commissioned to illustrate in watercolours even today. This is normally to follow a more traditional or country feel to the design.

Over recent years the advancement in digital and 3d modelling has transformed how Architectural illustrations are drawn. With one very big advantage, the ability to update and duplicate elements. Now you might think this allows the illustrations to be cheaper, but the truth is that inputting and building the models takes longer than drawing in pencil on paper using 2 or 3 point perspective.
There's another big advantage with a 3d model though.
Seeing that the house or building has been built now, the illustrator can change the viewing angle and render an alternative scene. This is very cost effective if the customer wants to show more than one view or in a different way like time of day or a different environment. Animation is possible, though sometimes limited, but is perfect for on-line promotion. To read more on this subject, please see planets blog on Architectural illustration and useful ways to apply them.
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5/ "3d views"
Some people have difficulty understanding plans for instance a building's floor plans, but by creating depth and perspective to the plan, it can transform it into a model like scene, where the users can instinctively understand the illustration.

There are countless ways to show this, but simplicity is key to avoid making it complicated, and personalising it to the point it's not to some peoples taste with furniture or floor coverings.

I've been designing and illustrating and you could say specialised in this area since 1990 (25 years), helping my customers by digesting the complicated or unusual message and with expertise, suggest the best way to go about illustrating your concept.
Taking into consideration different factors when commissioned, like the target audience, lifespan of the illustration, and what your ultimate goal is. We also let you know if you need an illustration or simply a more effective way to approach the topic.
We're here to help you, and give a personal one 2 one service. That's why planet illustration has been established and successful since 1990.

So if you need help to illustrate your message. Give Adrian at Planet illustration a call today. Call_Adrian
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