Illustrating the Future of Travel

A deep dive into my process

For the past couple of months, I have been illustrating and designing Sabre Labs’ 2017 Radar Report. The report, published in June, covers nine tech trends, each of which was illustrated using the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil, and Adobe Sketch. Here’s a closer look at the process.

The report is available to download here.

The Tools

On Adobe Sketch

While not the most robust sketching app available on the iPad, Adobe Photoshop Sketch and its integration into Creative Cloud was essential in my workflow, and I always pulled illustrations into Photoshop for final edits and touch-ups. The layers translate from Adobe Sketch to Photoshop, although not the other way around, unfortunately.

All the images created with Adobe Sketch are of course, raster files. (If you want vectors, use Adobe Illustrator Draw.) To preserve the image quality, I’d often draw an object very large in Adobe Sketch, upload the psd onto Creative Cloud, then rescale in Photoshop.

On the Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil was a pleasure to use. The pencil is sensitive and intuitive, although my hand would cramp sometimes from trying to reach maximum pressure on the pencil. Charging the pencil is still awkward and I’m still terrified that I will snap off the metal every time I plug the pencil in, but overall, it is only a minor inconvenience, and I was impressed by the quickness. My biggest complaint is the inability to know the battery level of the pencil. Even if there is a way to find out, I never learned how, even after months of using the app. These drawbacks are only minor hiccups in the workflow however, and I’ll definitely be using the pencil for my future creative endeavors.

The Process

Creating materials for Sabre Labs is always interesting—we need to represent Sabre as a company but also retain our identity as Sabre Labs, the team of innovation and emerging techs.

Effectively leveraging Sabre’s company color, red, is integral to achieving this brand cohesion. Once that’s solid, I can then push other boundaries to represent Sabre Labs’ creative and innovative spirit without straying too far from Sabre’s company identity as a whole. Red can be a challenge though; although attention-grabbing and powerful, when used in excess, it quickly overpowers other elements.

Working at Sabre, I’ve quickly learned to use red only as an accent color. So starting out, one of my first challenges was to figure out a solid color palette beyond “Sabre Red”. Looking into our brand guidelines, I landed on a calming mint blue, which meshes well with not only red, but with a variety of other colors that are trendy today. This blue became the backdrop of my first illustration, blockchain, and of all the other illustrations to come.

Style, Color, Vision, and Blockchain

Initial sketches for blockchain

As the first illustration, blockchain was the most time-consuming but also the most fruitful, as it set the tone for the rest of the illustrations. It was also a technology that was more conceptual in nature, allowing me to play with different styles of illustrations to best find the one that fit our vision as Labs.

At Sabre Labs, we envision future that is promising and realistic, yet not dystopian or utopian. It was important that the illustrations embodied our attitude. Fleshing out the illustration for blockchain, three more words emerged that further defined our vision for the Radar Report: whimsical, human, and approachable.

Final sketch for blockchain (left); My notes on Sabre Labs’ brand vision (right)

Decided on the sketch, I came back to the colors. Based on the previously selected blue and of course, red, I dropped in other colors to the sketch. By the time the illustration was complete, I had a solid color palette and a style to lead me for the next eight illustrations.

A Closer Look at the Tools

There is a variety of tools in Adobe Sketch, but I only really used the color pencil tool.

When the Apple Pencil is tilted, the color pencil tool produces a grainy texture that added visual interest and cohesion across the illustrations. I also found the tool to be the most efficient in blending colors. I can blend by simply tilting and varying the pressure on my Apple Pencil—no need to fuss with flow settings, and there are no streaks you tend to get when you use a traditional Photoshop brush.

Layer blend modes are available on Adobe Sketch, and I use them mostly when I want to increase contrast without going into Photoshop. Uploading psd’s onto Creative Cloud can be tedious and breaks the flow, so I avoid switching platforms unless absolutely needed. My go-to blend modes to heighten shadows on objects are multiply and luminosity.

The ruler was essential in keeping edges sharp and angles consistent. I opted for an isometric perspective whenever possible in the illustrations to add to their whimsy. The hexagon ruler was especially useful in drawing isometrically.

Keeping my angles consistent

The Illustrations

Finally, below are the nine illustrations in the order as I completed them.

Trend 1: Blockchain

Blockchain, 2017.

My first illustration and my favorite. The concept is quite literal—depicted are technologies, built on chain of blocks… I had a lot of fun drawing out the use cases of blockchain. (To find out what these use cases are, read our report!)

Trend 2: Space Tourism

Space Tourism, 2017

I was looking at a lot of retrofuturism as I began this project. Although I wasn’t consistent about it, you can find vintage influences throughout the illustrations. Here, it’s a vintage postcard from Mars.

Trend 3: Quantum Computing

Quantum Computing, 2017

Another one I had a lot of fun with — featured here is the Apple Classic computer with a qubit diagram on the screen, a “vintage” plant behind the computer, except in true millennial fashion, it’s a succulent.

And of course, if we’re going to talk about quantum physics, we can’t forget Schrodinger’s cat.

Trend 4: Autonomous Delivery

Autonomous Delivery, 2017

Admittedly, the first thought was to draw drones, but I didn’t want to be so literal. The reasons are twofold: 1) Drones are ugly, and 2) the image would become outdated too quickly.

Initially, the idea was a walking pizza delivering itself, but we decided autonomously delivered medicine was a more important thing to focus on.

Trend 5: Neural Interfaces

Neural Interfaces, 2017

Brains are fun to draw! We may implant chips in our brains one day!

Trend 6: VR Gets Physical

VR Gets Physical, 2017

This one was painful to get going. I really didn’t want to illustrate a guy looking awestruck in a headset for the hundredth time, but who knew coming up with a different idea would be so difficult?

To make things trickier, we weren’t just talking about VR but about how VR could map to the physical world. Still unsure on the clarity of this image, but visually, I do like it.

Trend 7: Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence, 2017

Starting this illustration, there were a lot of opinions on what not to draw. We didn’t want any scary-looking android heads or implications that AI was going to take over the world. The final idea came about after brainstorming with the team — we believe in the future of human/AI collaboration, so instead of just the machine, depicted are the human and the machine working together.

Drawing the little details in the background as a nod to the importance of machine learning in AI was fun :)

Trend 8: Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality, 2017

Another tough one conceptually. We wanted to emphasize scanning and surface detection used in AR.

Trend 9: Trusted Presence

Trusted Presence, 2017

This was the last illustration, and it shows. But I do love drawing eyeballs.

The Final Report

I hope this walkthrough has piqued your curiosity in our 2017 Radar Report. It’s available to download here at sabrelabs.com.

For further inquiries or discussions on the future of technology and travel, please reach out to Sabre Labs at sabrelabs@sabre.com.