The Making of an ...


We continue to experiment with all forms of visual storytelling.

Anyone can point and click a camera. Thanks to the numerous make-me-better tools, amateurs can doctor a photo into something “watchable.”

Not so with the illustration.

Only legit expertise can create a professional-grade illustration, but the reward comes in a fresh communications asset. Any time you can zig when your competitors zag, it’s a good thing.

Unlike photography, the creation of an illustration calls for a tag-team process between PR and the artist. To show how this collaboration plays out in the real world, I’ve broken down the steps behind the recent design of an illustration geared for the life-style world.

1)    Raw creative: Brainstorm concepts for the illustration. Once a zillion ideas have spilled out, you need to be ruthless in pruning the wannabes so only potential gold remains.

2)    Guide the illustrator: While you can involve the illustrator in the initial brainstorming process, it’s been our experience that some direction helps kick-start the design process. Here’s a high-level snapshot of what went to the illustrator for the life-style artwork.

  • Looking for a touch of levity
  • Envision a man and a women sitting a restaurant table holding menus. Early 40s. Polished. Fit. Dressed well. A pinch on the snooty/pretentious side.
  • Words coming from women’s mouth – “Prefer that the salmon is wild. But tell me about the fisherman who caught the salmon. Wife? Kids? Percent of body fat?”

Again, the idea is to communicate a starting point for the designer without stifling creativity.

3)    Conceptual Evolution: The back and forth between PR and the artist commences. The artist will have ideas not only on design, but syncing the words with the visual. Likewise, PR will offer feedback on the design. For this illustration, the designer concluded the concept would work better losing the man and bringing a waiter into the picture.  She also felt the words were too long. Such collaboration produced this draft.

visual storytelling - Fisherman Illustration draft

4)    Finalizing the Concept: Here’s an example of PR playing art director. The illustrator’s words didn’t quite work, so we went back to our original approach in a shorter form, suggesting we put the salmon on the menu with the lady pointing to it. Even with the shortened version, the artist felt the words worked better as a caption under the illustration. The final illustration reflects these refinements.

visual storytelling - Fisherman Illustration final

The creative process for artwork can resemble the wizard behind the curtain.

Hopefully, this takes some of the mystery out of the process.

I’ve always felt lucky in being surrounded by artists. One of my best friends in college and now brother-in-law is a gifted designer (our posters for undergrad parties were a cut above the norm). My brother was a photographer. One of my sisters designs clothes.  My wife’s artistry runs from canvas to rehabbing stray chairs.

Through sheer osmosis, I’ve learned visual storytelling even though I’m still the last guy you want at the Hangman board.

Note: For more on the general topic, check out “Visual Storytelling Lessons From BusinessWeek.”


Leave a Reply