The Power of Illustration to Communicate Complex Ideas

Illustration is a method of communicating with images (visual communication), whether it be a story, a message or a feeling. Using art and words together helps explain or clarify otherwise difficult or complicated ideas. It helps create interest in new or unknown subjects and is good for holding peoples attention spans. There are different types of Illustration which can target audiences in different contexts. These contexts are print, moving image, installation and interaction.

Historical and cultural importance

The historical and cultural importance of Illustration should not be overlooked. Art has always been associated with identity, wealth, status, religion and belief. From prehistoric times on, people have used images and symbols to help explain complex cultural and social messages. To enhance and illuminate, tell stories or to express power, ownership and identity, art and folk art has kept cultural traditions alive.

Illustration as we know it developed from early printing methods such as woodblock. Improved printing processes made art available to the masses and not only a closed elite. Reproduced art became more accessible for people than original fine art and forms of visual communication developed to take advantage of this. Illustration helped show the world to people in an age before photography was widespread.

Illustration educated people on social issues and also entertained in the form of cartoons, satire and picture books. One of the first Illustrated books for children was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Illustrated by political Illustrator for Punch, Sir John Tenniel.

People became surrounded by Illustration with its increased use in society. It helped explain, communicate and show moments in time.

(If you want to know more about the historical context of Illustration Alan Male’s book “Illustration Meeting the Brief” has a great section on this).

Uses

There are five different contexts for using Illustration: knowledge, persuasion, identity, fiction and commentary. Here I will go over some observations I’ve made on this.

As we tend to see illustrations before reading text it can lead reluctant readers into something they may otherwise have avoided altogether. As well as this Illustration can add visual interest, reflect the tone of the narrative and make it seem easier to comprehend through visual clues. It clarifies, presents information and makes information more interesting to digest. For people with different languages an Illustration can help with their understanding of words. Illustration is also useful for early readers and people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Illustration is a useful tool for engaging and entertaining a reader. Images stimulate the senses and they encourage different emotional responses. With the use of Illustration you can inspire and enrich the imagination. It can show new or different ways of looking and thinking about things and promote free thinking and imaginative thought. Illustration is not limited to things impossible to photograph or film. It can show new worlds with original stories and characters, it can offer alternate viewpoints and commentary. There are no limits to what Illustration can express.

Illustration gives a sense of personality to words. It can add personality, appeal, charm, humour, and a more human touch to otherwise bland material. It can show the feeling you want your information to convey as it can express a mood or emotion; happiness, sadness, anger etc. It can stimulate other senses and can be immersing, strengthening the message.

Illustration is a powerful tool in Graphic Design and Advertising. It grabs attention and promotes causes, it can make text more interesting to read and It can create consistency in a look or brand.

How a brand is perceived by someone can be influenced by using Illustration and it can help tell a story associated with the brands message. It is useful for encouraging responses in people. Whether to buy, provoke a reaction, attract, repulse, read or learn about a product or service. It can engage an audience or create arguments for the brand based on visual clues an audience can relate to or attracted to.

Illustration is valuable because it can make things look friendly, beautiful, desirable and have personality. All these things encourage someone to buy something or at least gain an interest in it.

In different time periods and cultures around the world certain styles of art were used. Illustration that incorporates these historical or retro styles can create feelings of nostalgia or a sense of time and place. In doing so Illustration can also instill trust in a brand. It can evoke feelings of tradition, quality and nostalgia. The use of familiar visual images can give continuity to a brand adding to its perceived equity and value. For new brands Illustration can create brand awareness and trust by being memorable and being in a style tailored to the brands message and target audience.

Further Reading

Illustration Meeting the Brief by Alan Male


Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it useful.

I’m an Illustrator working on personal projects and designs.

Visit my website to find out more about me.