When we think of illustration, the first thing that comes to mind is children’s books. We tend to think of illustration as that stepping stone to real reading – simple, colorful pictures used as a tool to help move a story along for young minds as they try to sound out words and make sense of the text. Once they become stronger readers, the picture books go away.
Shirley Hughes, an award-winning author of more than fifty books and illustrator of over two hundred, condemns this view of illustration. “The idea that pictures are sternly removed from you as soon as you learn to read is a truly terrible one,” she told the Guardian back in 2009.
Illustrations were never intended to be used as a mere stepping stone to better textual comprehension. Hughes points out that Great Expectations and Sherlock Holmes both came to life as illustrations in magazine serials.The value illustrations bring to storytelling as standalone components is immeasurable.
Fast forward to today. The trend away from illustration has been reversed. In this hyper-digital age, we are inundated with information at all times from every direction. We’re so used to visual messaging that stock photos have fully lost their touch. We gloss right over them and wonder why we’re looking at pictures of strangers when the main goal of great user experience is for it to feel incredibly personalized.
Cue the resurgence of Illustration. Illustration is everywhere, and it will be one of the most powerful marketing tools for 2016. Illustrators are need for everything from designing smartphone apps to building major ad campaigns that include hand-drawn typography and mixed dimension animation. Today, the goal isn’t to use technology to create images devoid of imperfection. It is to use technology to help infuse an app or an entire ad campaign with personal touch.
Far from being sequestered to dusty children’s books, illustration is pushing new boundaries. Top illustrators are mixing mediums, working with animation, and re-injecting the homespun feel where for so many years we have been focused on perfecting the digital image. To help you stay up with the times, here are the illustration trends to watch in 2016.
Cutting edge designers are blending illustration with photography, collage, and painting. Two pioneers leading the way are Joe Cruz and Hattie Stewart, both of whom are focused on challenging the hyper perfectionism of digital.
Cruz uses low tech materials to create mixed media ads for an impressive list of clients ranging from Adidas, Warner Music and Wired to the New York Times and Financial Times. Stewart, a self-proclaimed “professional doodler,” works with Marc by Marc Jacobs, Nike, Urban Outfitters, and Barney’s New York (to name just a few) to bring illustration to life on posters and magazine covers. We expect more and more illustration-photography combinations to come in the near future.
Flat, but with a twist
Flat design has been around for awhile now, and it isn’t going anywhere. Why should it? It’s simple and eye-catching, which is exactly what users need in order to get (and stay) hooked on a screen. But just because it’s sticking around doesn’t mean it isn’t changing.
Google recently introduced Material Design, a set of design tools that focus on mixing the principles of flat design with the science of movement. These new design elements keep the illustration super flat but add some simple shadows and movement, creating a greater sense of reality for the user.
Audiences have grown so used to over-the-top 3D CGI that it’s actually gotten quite boring. When 3D CGI modeling is mixed with 2D elements, however, the hybrid result is great at keeping our attention. In the coming year, we expect that this mix of dimensionality and flatness will really catch on. This combination of animation and illustration takes the best that technology has to offer and uses it to amplify our childhood fascination with simple drawings, bringing our imagination to life.
There’s been a surge in demand lately for super minimal design. Part of this is paring down the color choices and turning to monochromatic palettes. This means illustrators are increasingly using a single base color and a variety of derivative shades and tints of that hue to create their design. This automatically gives the illustration a sense of harmony and simplicity that is both attention-grabbing and immediately easy to understand.
Consider hand-drawn typography the antidote to the super sleek technological age we live in. Illustrators are experimenting with different textures including chalks, inks, markers, and pencils on all sorts of material from paper to wood in order to inject a playful human touch into computer fonts.
For Diet Coke’s Re-Tweets of Love Campaign, fans were asked to tweet what they love about the soda. The winning tweets were transformed into hand-drawn “typography-as-images” that were then featured on Diet Coke cans.
Sarah Coleman, one of the designers for the project and a self-described “inky mole,” explained the process of creating illustrative lettering: “I usually tell people it’s organic, irreverent, dark, silly, scratchy, changeable, energetic, made by hand, and there is a lot of it: to quote Marian Banjes: [Typography is] ‘Eclectic while still personally identifiable.’” If that doesn’t have personal, human touch all over it, we don’t know what does. We expect you’ll see a lot more in the way of handdrawn typography this year.
Shirley Hughes was right: getting rid of illustration is a terrible idea. 2016 is all about bringing it back, and doing so in new and innovative ways. It’s time to hire an illustrator.