artistic design versus plain layout

Bringing art into design

In Illustration by Steve CartwrightLeave a Comment

I find that being a graphic designer opens up doorways into many other specialised fields that need to be incorporated into your designs. Possibly the most important one being illustration. Illustration can be anything from photo manipulation, bespoke artwork created to compliment your layouts and even an entire design illustrated from separate elements or created from scratch using any number of varied and diverse methods.

Is graphic design more than just the layout of text and elements?
It should encompass everything that is art, but have a clear message.

The difference between using illustration in your designs or not is the difference between an amazing eye catching design or a random photo with some text underneath it. The illustration in your design will bring all the elements together into a cleverly thought out space that leads the eye into the artwork and message. Some will argue that the photo and text option is sufficient to get the message across, but I think it’s more important to create a design that first pulls the viewer in to find out more, and then portrays the message in a way that is both enticing and informative.

Incorporating illustration into your workflow allows you to customise fonts, create bespoke lettering and implement an additional flourish or emblem for use in a logo rather than simply choosing a font and being done with it.

Artistic layout of shot menu alongside a plain text version
Which of these two menus would immediately show you what is available and entice you to try one of the products?

I love learning new techniques and experimenting with art. I think it’s important that artists or designers don’t get stagnant in what they do. I see a lot of designers who get pigeon-holed into a particular style. I find this counter productive to creating great artwork. To learn or try something new often takes a little longer (and isn’t always the right direction to take) but it usually makes the difference between amazing work and distinctly average or poor design.

Experimentation and the thirst for knowledge has brought me to where I am today, without it I would probably still only be using a pencil and nothing else. I still use a pencil and pad and they are great resources but I can now combine them with all the technical knowledge I have learned, to bring the drawings to life by enhancing the sketches in Photoshop or retracing them in Illustrator to create vector files, to putting them online and being able to share them with the world.

If you think about it, illustration creeps into all graphic designers work, often without even being noticed for what it is. Whether designing a few border elements or creating something new from a set of photographs, to creating text type effects to highlight some information in an interesting way.

Take the music industry as an example. There may be a few DIY album covers out there today that work because of a very cleverly chosen photograph, but the vast majority of them need something unique to stand out and be noticed. They also need to reflect the music and reach a particular demographic of listeners. This doesn’t mean they all have to be generic designs according to the artist or genre of music but does mean that they should portray some feeling of the music and emotional content behind it.

For as long as I can remember there has been some truly awesome cover artwork out there complimenting their music. This goes to reinforce my idea that all art should be inclusive and bespoke. Music is part of my design world and design / illustration plays a major role in the musical scene as well. The best covers out there are the ones that illustrate a feeling or back story, that intrigue the viewer into wanting to know more and therefor listen to the album to get the next installment in the wholly artistic package.

Brilliant album cover designs
The image above shows some brilliantly designed and illustrated cd covers for Iron and Wine, Baroness, RX Bandits, The Invisible, San Fermin, Pixies, Darkside and Bjork. I think these covers will stand the test of time because of the love and attention put into their iconic cover artwork.
You can see some other great cd cover designs in Smashing Magazines article here.

Even incorporating hand made elements or non digital artwork into designs should always be considered good practice. There isn’t always the time or budget for it but it’s an important aspect that enables designers to produce something truly unique and bespoke. The digital medium should be used after the natural creative process to cohesively combine or tidy up the hand crafted material and ensure that it is produced in the correct formats or methods for its intended use.

This method comes into play when creating quick ideas or mockups for logos or layouts and helps formulate ideas, to quickly get a feel for some different concepts. I tend to use it a lot with my personal illustrations or work that isn’t constrained to very tight budgets or timescales, as it allows me to be very loose and creative, in the knowledge that I can always spend some time tidying it up later or recreate the elements digitally to get the perfect result.

Look around you and start noticing the artistic elements surrounding your every day life.

Having a firm eye on the world around us and all the inspiration that can be taken from it is amazingly important. If you only ever look at one style of work or only ever focus on a single aspect of something, you lose out on a wealth of information and inspiration that can be brought into your personal methodology, to create something new and exciting to refresh your ideas and workflow. This will reduce the stagnation that sometimes appears when you do the same thing repeatedly.

Learning about lighting effects also advances your graphic design work. Don’t just use the drop shadow effect in Photoshop, create the shadows yourself for some added realism or more dynamic layouts. The best way to learn this sort of technique is to look at everything around you and figure out how you would portray a particular element or what the best way to light a scene in your designs would be. Even abstract or cartoon work needs some real world values to make them believable. Being able to twist these rules effectively requires a knowledge of the functioning item in the real world.

Try any alternate art form, whether it’s origami, calligraphy, drawing, painting, graffiti or even playing a musical instrument. You’ll be surprised to see the influence it has on your creativity.

Get excited about design again – try something new – enjoy life.

Bringing art into design was last modified: November 17th, 2014 by Steve Cartwright

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