One of the things marketers love to tell themselves is that content is king. Of course, it’s natural for marketers to constantly tout this line or else they’d be out of a job. Still, it is undeniable that in order for content marketing to work in the first place, you need to have good contents first. The question of course lies in what exactly constitutes a good content, or rather, what type of content should you create?
Of course, with the progress the internet has had in the past decade, that question has been rendered moot since multimedia contents are now the norm. Video is a mix between motion picture and audio while blog posts are now almost always peppered with images. In fact, images and graphics are now considered an integral part of web design, so much so that the day-to-day considerations of design mostly revolve around choosing between images.
Original design and stock photos
Most of the time, when we’re talking images, we tend to naturally gravitate to the field of photography. This is especially true when it comes to commercial purposes. After all, it’s a bit hard trying to sell a product without providing customers a clear presentation of what you’re selling. While this idea is perfectly understandable, simply choosing photography based on their practicality does a disservice to what illustrations are capable of.
In this era of social media and constant image sharing, our lives are constantly bombarded with photographs while illustrations, which used to thrive in platforms like DeviantArt has again been pushed to the margins. This is of course a shame as illustrations, thanks to its relatively unfettered nature, has several distinct advantages over photography, which will be explored further.
Illustrations are unfettered by reality
Japanese animations have regularly portrayed a world where humans wage war against alien races and sometimes each other while piloting giant robots that can transform into a fighter jet and they’ve been doing this since the 80s. Illustrations are only limited to their creators’ imagination and it’s this lack of inhibition that makes them highly suited to fantastical scenes. Even if you prefer your images grounded, going with illustrations would allow you to be uncompromising with your creative vision.
For designers, the flow usually goes like this. They have a vision on their mind of what type of image they like to see. The first thing they do is to check out the numerous platforms for stock photos to see if there’s anything that is in line with what they have in mind. Of course, things rarely work out that way so they end up with an image that closely resembles their vision, but not quite. This compromise won’t be necessary if designers are given the tools to create the images themselves.
To add an original touch to standard photos
The tricky thing with illustrations is that coming up with one from the ground up takes considerably more time and effort than to simply repurpose a stock photo. To alleviate this, designers should consider working from an actual photo as base while adding an original touch of their own. This hybrid practice is referred to as photo-illustration and going with this route could actually be more beneficial as it allows your images to still be grounded while maintaining a modicum of originality.
Take for example, the now iconic ‘Hope’ poster from Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. Designed by artist Shephard Fairey, the Hope poster was simply a stylized image made from the photo of Obama taken by photographer Mannie Garcia. The photo alone is just that, a photo, but add a layer of style and the word hope and it ended up as one of the most iconic poster 21st century have given us so far.
It’s easier for original works
In order to create an original photo, you need a good camera, an eye for photography and the perfect scene. The first one is rather simple, the second one is trickier but not impossible but it’s the third one that could end up problematic. Even if you have an idea of the kind of photo you’d like to take, setting up a scene so that it lines up exactly with your vision can be tough, especially when it comes to nature.
By contrast, when it comes to illustration all you need is a sketchbook and a pencil or a computer and a graphic editing program. If you already have a vision, it’s easier to create an original design instead of re-purposing another to fit your vision and an original illustration is much easier to achieve than an original photo.
Inspiring illustration or professional photography
For professional services, going with photography might be considered best practice since they can confer an aura of professionalism that illustration might not be able to. The Obama poster example above though shows just how a relatively simple tweak can give you a boost without losing a sense of professionalism. Next time you’re thinking about putting up an image on your website, consider going with photo-illustration to strike that balance between professionalism and originality.