Picture Perfect: Advertising and Promotional Projects

Adapted from Commercial Illustration: Mixing Traditional Approaches and New Techniques (RotoVision)

By Ian Noble

Illustration of Madonna for Spex magazine, Germany

In recent years contemporary culture has become increasingly dominated by visual communication, and in particular, commercial images. Visual communication pervades our existence through technologies such as television and the internet. The dynamic, seductive, and at times shocking visual messages can seem inescapable as they seek out their intended audiences. The strategies employed to market individual products or to emphasize a brand or a company’s identity have become increasingly sophisticated, and in some cases adopt an unfamiliar level of subtlety in their use of images and illustration. This has become a necessary part of the process of selling, as the intended audience has become more visually discerning. The ubiquitous culture of the image has had an effect on both screen-based and printed media, and has encouraged a renaissance in the role and use of images within design.

Knowledge Assurance

The work of illustrators such as Ian Bilbey aids the presentation of complex information such as a company’s financial position within their annual report. This activity is concerned with more than just providing pretty pictures to accompany business figures. These illustrators use their ability to visualize the world to represent information in a manner that can be easily understood.

This form of illustration represents a particular sector of the discipline—one which is more concerned with an enhanced form of representation than a direct interpretation. To operate with any degree of success, the illustrator working in this field must not only understand the information they are working with, but also the perceived values and identity that a company or product stands for. This also requires an understanding of the particular audience the client wishes to reach, and an ability to translate this into an appropriate and effective visual language.

This does not mean that the work reduces the meaning of what it represents; what is known in graphic design as ‘problemsolving’ can result in a rich and diverse range of visual outcomes. Often the illustrator is employed because their style of work is, to a large degree, visually in tune with the client or product’s intended audience. At other times, illustrators are contracted to enrich the client’s message and extend its communication, desirability, or authority through their ability to produce a variety of styles.

Future Farmers
Exhibition logo for Wataiko Institute for Technology

Visual Explanations

The work of Grundy Northedge could be regarded as information design—a discipline the group describes as "illustration to explain rather than decorate”. In a series of pictograms produced for the oil company Shell International they developed an icon-based system that was employed across a range of material including book dividers, posters, and even Christmas cards. The pictograms have their roots in the clean and hard-edged language of international picture symbols such as the instantly recognizable figures more often seen in signage systems.

These are enlivened by a playful and humanistic approach adopted by the group. The recurring male figure is depicted in a number of attitudes which ape these signs of authority and instruction but which, on closer inspection, are subtly altered to address the message of the client; thus the pictograms are presented in a personal manner with which the audience can identify.

All Dressed Up

Ian Bilbey produced a clearly recognizable identity for the clothing company, Paul Smith, through his clever use of images that adopt an almost retro style of illustration. Bilbey’s strong visual identity is both instantly recognizable and extends the image of the business, demonstrating how illustration can be effectively used to update and extend the perception of a company or product. The Paul Smith group is more usually identified by the handwritten signature of the designer himself. Bilbey’s approach to the project builds upon the quirkiness of the founder’s personal signature, which has remained a constant throughout the marketing of his clothing range over the years.

Francois Chalet
Illustration from the Tourist project, 2002

The illustrator Marion Deuchars has worked with Frost Design on a number of projects. Her illustration for the Design and Art Directors’ Association’s (D&AD) 2002 annual review finds an unlikely solution to the presentation of figures and charts. In her now familiar drawing style, Deuchars hand drew the information, even using the ring left behind by a coffee cup as the basis for a series of pie-charts. This approach is carried over into the typography of the report, which is entirely hand-rendered by Deuchars in pencil. The end result is an unexpected visual presentation for the association’s annual report and 40th anniversary. The association, which organizes an annual competition, awards ceremony, and education program, for both the professional creative industry and students, are closely associated with the pencil. This symbol, which forms a large part of their identity, is also a three dimensional award much coveted by entrants of the annual competition.

The use of illustration to sell, persuade, or inform, provides a good example of its power to communicate beyond the level of, for instance, a photograph—adding a level of sophistication and interpretation beyond that which is achievable through the lens.

While there is a renaissance and renewed interest in illustration of a hand-drawn nature, this does not necessarily mean that a pencil is the only tool employed. The work is also concerned with other forms of drawing: using the mouse, working in three dimensions, or with the moving image, for example. The hand-drawn image which uses a particular quality of line and mark-making is often a result of a hybrid approach to illustration. These apparently direct methods of creating images are often a result of a layering of processes. This collaging together of old and new does at times appear to be at odds with some of the harder-edged and cleaner styles of current illustration, and, although a product of new technology, it does appear, to some degree, to be a reaction to this.

Marion Deuchars
Client: D&AD
Annual Report
Date: 2002

To mark the D&AD’s 40th Anniversary, the 2002 Annual Review was given special treatment by art director Vince Frost and illustrator Marion Deuchars: all 5496 words of the text were handwritten in pencil. Using a pencil, without relying on typesetting, was an attempt to represent the organization’s famous identity, which was extended with informal treatments of financial information using coffee rings for pie-charts and hand-drawn tables.

Ian Bilbey
Client: Paul Smith,
Date: 2000

Ian Bilbey was commissioned to produce a series of images to promote the Paul Smith company’s Autumn/Winter collection. He was given simple oneword briefs such as belt, hat, typewriter, etc. Bilbey, who describes his method of working as “drawing with a mouse”, produced these illustrations which adopt an almost retro feel. The final pieces were A1/A0 in size, and are an attempt, Bilbey says “to keep it simple”.

Ian Bilbey
Client: Waitrose,
Kiehls, artifact.com
Date: 2001

These images, produced for a variety of clients, demonstrate the diversity of Ian Bilbey’s approach to image-making. The image at left, produced for the Waitrose supermarket group, visually explains how the price the customer pays for wine is reached, and could be described as a form of information design. The images at right were commissions which were never published. The Chase Manhattan (Day/Night) image was originally produced for a website selling prints, and the Kiehls image was produced for a shop in New York.

Future Farmers
Self-promotional logos, teardrop logo
Date: 2002/2003

The ironic ‘we never sleep’ owl logo has become a Future Farmers motto. This is used by the group (founded by Amy Franceschini in 1995) alongside the Tree logo. The seedling logo was developed as part of the group’s Seedling Toy series. The teardrop logo was produced for a water purification unit project.

Peter Grundy/Grundy Northedge
Client: Shell International,
Date: 2000–present

These images form part of an illustration identity for a department within Shell International that deals with forward-thinking via scenario creation. The two image sets are divided into icons and characters specifically for use on-screen and in print to clarify complex written explanations and descriptions. The sets are added to as the project develops and scenarios expand. The visual system demonstrates Grundy Northedge’s approach to problem-solving and identity design—a very visual form of information design.

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Excerpted with permission from Commercial Illustration: Mixing Traditional Approaches and New Techniques (Rotovision) by Ian Noble. Copyright © 2006 Rotovision.