29th June 2020

Powering your website content with illustration

Ben Serbutt

Ben Serbutt Head of Creative

@benserbutt Linkedin

With photographers still struggling with lockdown like the rest of us, how can we convey the human stories so vital to charities?

Storytelling is at the heart of many a content strategy, especially for charities. From the powerful imagery of the impact of plastic pollution to the inspiring stories behind the UK’s churches, we know that stories are a powerful way to connect to audiences.

But with lockdown still restricting movement – and therefore content collection being almost impossible – what is a website editor to do?

Enter illustration. So often underused, especially in the third sector, illustration has a range of benefits, many of which have come into their own in recent months. 

A selection of work by illustrator Jean Jullien

French illustrator Jean Jullien is in high demand

Commissioning or stock?

“But what about the cost?” I hear many a client ask. While commissioning Jean Jullien or Quentin Blake might be beyond your means, there’s a vast array of talent out there. 

Each year brings another swathe of fresh graduates, eager to create impactful work, especially for an organisation they believe in. A bit of research on Instagram could be a cheaper place to start and when things get back to normal, the D&AD New Blood Festival brings envy to all creatives. 

Then there’s commissioning through a specialist illustration agency, such as Handsome Frank, NB Illustration or Jelly. Always keen to hear from new potential clients, they can talk you through creating a great brief, finding the right style and getting the best bang for your hand-drawn buck.

Finally, although I almost never recommend stock photography to any of our clients, stock illustration has been improving over recent years. Stalwart Shutterstock is worth a browse, but lesser-known Ikon Images can turn up real gems. 

Purple people illustration by Meg Robichaud

Purple people illustration by Meg Robichaud

Diversity and inclusion

One of the big advantages of illustration is being able to create exactly what you need. The shortage of diverse and inclusive imagery is still apparent across the charity world, so this could be a great chance for your organisation to better reflect your audiences and their needs. And it’s always a good time to ensure you’re commissioning BAME artists, balancing their lack of representation in creative industries. 

And remember, despite the trend towards colourful illustrated people, you can’t just draw purple people and call it diverse!

Styles

So what style to choose? Like any creative field, illustration has trends, so it’s worth bearing in mind how long you want your images to be relevant for – versus being fashionable if that’s important to your audience. 

If you’re a larger charity you no doubt have the brand police that will help direct the kind of style that fits with your wider communications. But if you haven’t updated your visual identity in recent years, perhaps it’s time to

Illustration can become an important way you communicate, especially when so few other charities do it successfully. Clue: if your guidelines reference assets being available on ‘floppy disk’, it’s definitely time (true story!).

Another big advantage of illustration is its ability to convey ideas and moods. A simple visual joke, pun or concept can communicate, as the cliché goes, a thousand words – and even go viral if done well. Think about how many cartoons get shared on social media.

Remote commissioning

Finally, the biggest advantage at the moment is clearly being able to still tell those vital human stories without the need for photography. Illustrators often work from home or their own studio, so they’ve been ahead of the (flattened) curve. 

So branch out, drop one an email and start a creative relationship that could help build your brand for years to come. 

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