Graphic Design and Illustration

How to avoid issues when illustrating for clients

Graphic Designers and Illustrators are very similar animals. In fact some Designers are Illustrators and vice versa. Are all designers illustrators? Nope, and are all illustrators designers? Nope, but it can be said that Illustration and Graphic Design do go hand in hand. Illustration are perfect pieces to design around. Sometimes it is a necessity to use illustration in your designs, because it would be impossible to get a photo of the subject any other way. Illustration is art at its rawest form. I respect illustration and attempt it ever so often, but what I want to concentrate on right now is dealing with clients who want illustration performed for them.

Lets create a possible scenario. A client comes to you and wants you to create a new logo for them. The client's name is Snarky's Tires. They want you to create a mascot, a shark. Your job is to make a logo including their shark mascot. They want him to be a happy, fun loving tire shark.

Presented with this task you set out illustrating. You make Snarky a smilling razor-teethed great white with big goofy eyes and he's leaning through a tire giving a big thumbs up with his flipper. He's happy, fun-loving and you spent the entire day drawing this goofy logo on paper, then scanning and recreating it in Adobe Illustrator. Your heart and creativity are wrapped up in Snarky's Tire logo.

You show the client your creation: Snarky The Tire Shark, in all his goofy glory. The client looks at it a say, "Weeeeeeeellll, This isn't what we had in mind. We were thinking Snarky was more of a hammer head shark. We like the thumbs up, and the tire, but the eyes are a little too big and goofy for us. Could you give us something more realistic?" You politely nod your head, bite your tongue and go back to the drawing board. You throw your Great White snarky in the garbage and begin your hammer head Snarky. You've designed a million things in the past, but when the client said they didn't like your illustration, the words cut a little deeper, hurt a little more. When a client disapproves of a photo, you don't have that attachment like you do with an illustration. When they don't like your drawing its kind of like them not liking your kid. It is a little more personal.

Illustration takes longer and has a tendency to create conflict with clients. This is especially prevalent in cases where the client wants cartoonish illustrations. The problem isn't your skill, the problem is expectation, execution, and communication.

When a client says they want a cartoon representation of a man, they have a particular image in their mind, and the chances of your visual representation and their mental expectation being the same or atleast similar is unlikely.

Execution can also become an issue. Perhaps the client has a specific style in mind, and you execute the illustration in a totally different style. This problem can occur because of the client's limited knowledge of the material, and thus communication suffers. Nothing is worse than a client not liking the finished product and being unable to verbalize their discontent. "I just don't like it" is the worst criticism because it doesn't create a path to approval.

Illustration is a hard service to provide, but sometimes necessary when dealing with clients. Here are some helpful tips to remember when providing illustration services:

  • 1. Make sure illustration is absolutely necessary. Can the objective be completed any other way?
  • 2. Get examples of what the client likes. Ask the client as many questions about what they want: Colors, techniques, objective. Ask the client what they don't want: Colors, techniques, representations.
  • 3. Take the client through the process. Send the client your drafts. It will keep them in the loop and diagnose any problems early. This will also help you achieve an approved final product quicker.
  • 4. Have confidence in your work. If you are proud of your work let the client know. Your positivity and confidence will help you sell the client on your product. If you question its quality, then the client will also question its quality. Confidence and praise will sell your work.
  • 5. Keep all of your work to reference later. If another client comes to you with an illustration request, what better than your previous work to establish expectation. The client will be used to seeing your work, and this will ultimately prepare them for the work you do for them.


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