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Leveraging Illustrative Design

Leveraging Illustrative Design

So what exactly is Illustrative Design?

Most people probably understand what graphic design means, at least in a general sense. And I’m guessing most would associate logo design with that term. But how many have heard of illustrative design? And among those, how many understand it? Think of this as a brief introduction.

So what exactly is illustrative design? To answer that question, let’s consider two very familiar logos. First, take a look at the Target logo. It’s a distinctly graphic design. Together, the three circular shapes form a target motif. In reality, any graphic designer could create this in about 40 seconds using basic tools provided in Adobe Illustrator. Design, yes. Illustrative? No.

In contrast, the Starbucks logo is an excellent example of illustrative design. At some point in the creative process, drawing was required to create the brand’s iconic green mermaid figure. She can't be built up from geometric shapes alone. Creating something like this requires a skill set not provided by a software program – namely, drawing. An illustrative eye, if you will.



Not all branding projects require illustrative design, but we've been able to leverage that skill when needed. Here are five examples. 



We approach every project with a well-defined strategy. Thorough research and understanding of a client's marketplace, and the target audience they desire to reach, are critical to keeping the project focused and the design explorations appropriate.

The conceptual cues that drive our design directions can be mere rabbit trails of thought derived from our research. An idea can come from an association with a universal metaphor or shape to cleverly communicate a meaning that aligns with the company, product, or service it's being created to represent.

Not all logos need to be geometric forms like a circle, square, triangle, or hexagon. Sometimes the best solution requires visual storytelling. That's where illustrative design comes into play.

When we approached the Fair Game project, we explored various ideas. Think of it as conceptual math. For example, what story can you tell when you have people who love to hunt deer and are looking for romance? Well, do the math; deer + love + cupid equals a deer cupid, right? Of course.



Saul Bass is the OG of illustrative design. So many of the iconic brands you recognized today were initially designed by Saul in the 50s and 60s. He defined design best when he said, "Design is thinking made visual."



And how do you turn creative thinking into a realized illustrative design? Of course, this is better shown than explained. Here’s the four-step process we used in exploring one of our design directions for the Fair Game project:

Step 1: For me, the process starts with a rough drawing. It doesn't have to be perfect. The point is to capture the essence of an idea. Often, it’s helpful to use visual references.

At this stage, it really doesn't matter whether the style leans more toward graphic or realistic. In this example, referring to a real-world photo of a deer helps us deduce what makes a deer look like a deer.



Step 2: Vector building in Adobe Illustrator is more about craftsmanship than drawing. So I use the drawing as a guide to build the shapes needed.



Step 3: I’ve beefed up the point size on strokes as shown in antlers, then expanded them into shapes and offset the head shape to create a final profile. I then used pathfinder to unite them into one cohesive shape. That gives us the final base artwork.



Step 4: With the final brand mark established, we usually begin exploring color next. It’s now way easier to decide what colors will work best with this design direction.



The final logo design for Fair Game suits this online dating platform well. It’ll resonate directly with people who love the outdoors and are seeking like-minded romantic connections



We hope you enjoyed this insight into one portion of our creative process. Illustrative design opens the doors to a whole range of creative logo solutions that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. 

The world is full of illustrative design, so be on the lookout. Now that you have a better appreciation for what goes into it, I bet you'll notice lots more examples out in the wild.  

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