Posts Tagged ‘ lawrence werner ’

Putting Pencil to Paper – Making The Case For Illustration

Henri Matisse said, “Drawing is putting a line around an idea.” we’ve always liked that quote, but step inside any ad agency, design firm or interactive shop these days and the chance of seeing drawing, illustration, hand work, etc. being used in a project is slim to none. Sure, there’s lots of it to be found on the t-shirts being worn or the posters hanging in cubicles and the skateboards in the corner, but rarely in any of the work. If the key to effective marketing is positioning your products or services so they stand apart from the competition, especially in a world dominated by bad stock photography, illustration is an excellent option.

It seems as if clients and creatives automatically default to photography. It’s familiar, what they understand and what they know. Many people only think of illustration as being humorous or childish and nothing could be further from the truth. Good illustration is conceptual, makes strong connections and often translates an idea faster and more effectively than a photograph. Even stock illustration conveys more character and personality than your average piece of stock photography. And illustration is always a good choice when you need images of something that’s impossible to photograph.

Several years ago, our copywriter worked on a big project for a quasi-governmental agency that administered financial aid programs for college students. By law they were required to produce a booklet, similar to an annual report, that summarized all kinds of financial information and was distributed to everyone who had a loan with them. It also had to be state specific for each of the three states in which they did business. Since they made loans to all types of students, they wanted the images in the booklet to reflect diversity. The booklet from the previous year had used stock photography to achieve this but they felt it was a mess. Sixty pages of copy, graphs, charts and bad mismatched photos.

Their solution was to use illustration. They hired an illustrator to do about 30 simple sketches. The images were very loose drawings but clearly indicated the gender, race, age, etc. of the people pictured. There were also images of books, pencils, coffee cups and other random elements of student life. Since the drawings were loose, they used a single line to connect each image from page to page. The line started on the cover and ran through the entire book to the back cover, implying the loan you borrowed took you through your entire college experience. To differentiate from state to state they simply changed the color of the line from blue to green to red. The end result was a huge success. The client even received positive feedback on the piece – something that had never happened before. Best of all, the cost of the illustration was less expensive than if they’d had to buy a bunch of stock photography and Photoshop the images to try and make them look consistent.

Budgets and timelines are a factor with any project. And illustration doesn’t have to be expensive. There have been times in the past where we’ve contacted local colleges and art schools and met with students to see their portfolios. In several cases, we hired students to do work for an assignment. It’s a win-win situation.

Another option to consider is maybe you don’t need to use imagery at all. Good typography is imagery in its own right, and can make for a strong visual solution. Many illustrators will do some sort of hand-lettered type which serves to not only get your message across in words, but visually, as well.

There’s an old business adage that says, “When everyone else is zigging, why not zag and stand out from the crowd?” Illustration isn’t right for everything and many times the project will dictate when it’s appropriate. If the challenge is to get your clients products and services noticed, put pencil to paper and consider illustration rather than stock photography as a great way to make an impact.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Creative Ideas?

Just recently, I heard from an art director that I’d been teamed with years ago. We had a good run as a CW/AD team and were lucky enough to get into several of the major awards shows and books for some of the projects we’d worked on.  The reason for her call was in regard to one of those award-winning ads.

In the latest CA Design Annual there’s a piece that was done by a mid-western design shop and it’s a dead ringer for an invitation she and I did in 2001. Same concept, same size, same color, same library card and pocket, same typeface, same type of client, they even added a small rubber stamp mark, similar to ours. Did someone at this firm see our piece in an award annual and “borrow” it? Honestly, I think they did. It just seems too close to be a coincidence.  Our situation certainly isn’t unique. You see work that looks familiar all the time. But it got me to thinking about what it takes to do great creative.

New ideas take work. Hard work. The more ideas you come up with, the better your chances of getting to something good. Develop lots of ideas. And if something seems a little too far out there, you’re probably getting to a good place. The best ideas make you question yourself. If you’re not sure if it’s brilliant or it’s bullshit, then you’re probably on to something.

The same percentage theory works for headlines. The more headlines you write, the better your chances of getting a good one. Doesn’t matter whether it’s for an ad, a billboard or a web page. You can write 8 different headlines or you can write 80. Chances are the person who wrote 80 has better lines to choose from. It also holds true for art directors regarding typefaces and layouts. The more things you try, the more you experiment, the better the odds of hitting on something good.

You always hear people say things like “There’s no new ideas” or “Everything’s been done before”. I don’t buy it. Take the music video for example. How many of those have you seen? Hundreds? Thousands? What on earth could anyone do that was different in a music video? Check out Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” at it’s original. And pretty damn amazing considering they used existing technology but just looked at it in a new way.

Probably the key ingredient in great creative is time. And there never seems to be enough of it. When the timeframe on a project is tight, you have to make the most of it. Talk to anyone who’s ever worked at a shop where they do great creative work and they’ll tell you about the long hours that get put in. When I was just starting in the business and working night and day, we’d sometimes call other well-known creative agencies in the middle of the night.  We figured if we’re working, let’s see if they are. Didn’t matter whether it was 11 pm or 3 am, somebody picked up the phone.

Honestly, that kind of commitment isn’t for everyone. And I’m not advocating that kind of schedule. But the reality is these are some of the things it often takes to get great creative work. Or you can just look through some old advertising awards annuals until you find something similar to the project you’re working on. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. And you might even win an award for your copied ad. If the idea was strong enough to make the awards books the first time, maybe it’s good enough to get into the books again. That is, if you just wait long enough.