In my time working as a designer and illustrator at the Idea Factory, I’ve done many projects for clients who didn’t specifically request illustration, but I had included it as part of the design when I thought that it was more appropriate than a photograph.
Then, there have been instances where the client would give feedback; automatically dismissing the concept and asking to remove the illustration because they didn’t want “clip art.”
Now, it can be hard to convince a client after receiving such feedback that illustration and clip art are not always the same things — so usually the illustration gets removed and a stock photo is popped back in.
It seems like some clients feel that illustration of any kind is “clip art” — and after hearing designers complain for years about how “clip art is terrible” — the lines between clip art and appropriate and meaningful illustration have been blurred.
Not all designers are illustrators, nor does budget always allow for custom artwork, so sometimes designers do grab a stock illustration to use in their designs. Technically, this can be considered clip art, but it’s important to keep in mind that clip art itself is not bad, assuming it’s used appropriately and with reason. Traditionally, clip art has gotten a bad wrap because of its overuse by anyone who needed to spice up a homemade design project in a word processor. Often, it’s used by small businesses that might not be able to afford professional design services. And, most of the time, the finished work comes out looking tacky and cheap. But in the hands of a skilled designer, both custom illustration and stock illustration can work wonders in a design.
So, how can designers get their clients past this apparent illustration-phobia?
Educate the client. Explain why you chose to use illustration instead a photograph. A photograph of a girl dancing to music for a bar advertisement might not fit the existing creative or appeal to the target audience as well as a custom illustration would, which can be integrated seamlessly and appropriately.
Illustration allows designers to push creative boundaries where photographic manipulation or expensive 3D rendering might not be a practical option due to budgetary restraints, availability of talent, or other factors. Take the following ad campaign from the Warsaw Metropolitan Police. Imagine doing that with a real model!
Explain that custom illustration is something the client can own and build their brand with — it won’t be found in the designs of any other competitor.
Illustration does seem to be finding its place yet again in the advertising industry. The back-to-basics trend is strong and continuing to grow — we’re seeing illustration not only as a way to break through the clutter of computer generated, highly retouched imagery — but also as a coveted art form. Clients, trust your designer and give them the benefit of the doubt next time you’re presented with an illustrated concept — don’t be afraid to try something new!