Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For What It's Worth 25

In writing the blurb for the backcover of our new illustration annual I decided to focus on a problem we all face. Why not more illustration?

I’m often asked why art directors don’t use more illustration. And the truthful answer is that far too few know anything about illustration. 
They’ve never been taught about their choices. When I was coming up through the ranks I knew I had three tools in my toolbox: photography, typography and illustration. Today’s educators emphasize only two of these tools. So young art directors have no clue that illustration exists and even if they do they are fearful of finding and working with an artist.

What will the client say?

How do I know what I’m going to get?

What if I don’t like what I get?

Here's what I tell art directors:

Finding illustrators is easy, you’ll generally find them in the same locations as photographers: in annuals, juried shows, galleries and publications.

Hiring them is easy, too. It’s really no different than hiring a photographer with one exception: You can work with the illustrator to develop the visual. And many times a much better one than you can imagine yourself.

In my day I’d always show the client something in the layout but made it clear that I was asking for other ideas from the illustrator. And it always worked, good clients will respect a better idea.

I tell art directors working with illustrators is fun, asking for ideas from someone whose job is visual imagery means you have an extra pair of hands and brain on tap.

Naturally being a subjective world there will be times when no one agrees and at that point everyone is back to square one. But take heart, illustrators will work with you to make it right.

Showing a comp photo leaves little to the imagination, making the leap of faith with an illustrator can mean you’ll end up with an even better idea.

And finally I say: Working with an illustrator may be something new for you but isn’t that a gamble you’re willing to make?


  1. Good article, Charles! I agree, I feel in Germany it was even worse. Me and the others who studied design with me, we had a great education in conceptual ideas and typography, but how to hire an illustrator and the possibilities of illustration were not a priority.

  2. Not enough is done to convince publishers, editors and art directors that illustrations bring in more readers.
    Once they see the benefits of illustrations more illustrations will be used.
    Some type of research needs to be done that shows the benefits of having illustrations in publications.
    Something along the lines of:
    - Cover with an illustration on it gets more attention than a photo.
    - Publications with more illustrations in them have higher readership and better demographics.
    - Publications with more illustrations in them have readers that spend more time reading the publication.

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  4. Agreed. And it's easier to produce for clients more distinctive work with illustration than with photography.

  5. Great point that desperately needs to be made. Thanks for writing this. Any ideas on why Illustration was left behind to begin with? Was it just a case of changing trends?

  6. Great article. Great questions, with some very intriguing follow-up talking points.

    One more point I would add is that in the eternal struggle between Art Directors, Illustrators and Editors, the Editors are winning. Unfortunately, that means that AD's are not only having difficulty working with illustrators, they are having a hard time collaborating with the rest of the masthead as well.

    I would love to see some sort of "team training" added to the design curriculum, lest we face a bleak future of Editor/Photographer driven literalism rather than Art Director/Illustrator conceptualism.

  7. In Germany I hear lots of:
    Photos make our publication look more "credible" and "serious".
    Because of all the short deadlines they do not have time to find and work with illustrators.
    A stock photo is cheaper.

  8. If schools did a better job of educating art directors and to some degree designers illustrators would have an easier time finding work and ADs could buck the editors with the right argument. At the moment, they're lying down and taking it. They should point to the great editors of the past who saw the value of being unique and I believe with the shrinking market for print publications we'll see more adventuresome editors. Art Directors still need to be able to make the case for illustration.

    As far as a research study, they're being done and have been done in the past. Eye-tracking studies, images, etc. We live in a visual world so any type of visual gets attention, the better the visual the more interest there is. Illustration is an option more art directors need to be taking especially in a photography-littered world. It's really a no-brainer.