In the sec­ond of our se­ries on crafts in brand­ing, Emily Gosling ex­plains what il­lus­tra­tion can add to a brand, and when and how it should be used

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In the sec­ond of our se­ries about crafts in brand­ing, Emily Gosling ex­plains what il­lus­tra­tion can add to a brand, and how it should be used

Many brands choose to use il­lus­tra­tion to do at least some of the talk­ing for them, and if it’s true that an image speaks a thou­sand words, it’s easy to see why. Whether through con­tent, style, im­plicit nar­ra­tive or (likely) all three, an image can com­mu­ni­cate what copy and ty­pog­ra­phy of­ten can’t, at once set­ting out a mood, tone of voice, tar­get au­di­ence and at­ti­tude in a suc­cinct vis­ual.

The idea of us­ing il­lus­tra­tion not just in a cam­paign, but as a core part of a brand’s vis­ual iden­tity is per­haps less com­mon than it once was, and seems more aligned to cer­tain sec­tors than oth­ers. Lux­ury food pack­ag­ing, for in­stance, es­pe­cially on sea­sonal ranges: think high-end Christ­mas choco­late boxes. Or craft beer, a sec­tor that’s seem­ingly in­de­fati­ga­ble when it comes to both new vari­ants and brew­eries.

So what can il­lus­tra­tion do that type, pho­tog­ra­phy and copy alone can’t?

For one, it shows a unique­ness, and in the right hands, it de­liv­ers on-shelf stand­out like few other ap­proaches can.

There’s far less chance, for in­stance, of a brand com­mis­sion­ing the same il­lus­tra­tor, style and image as there is of it us­ing a sim­i­lar type­face or colour­way.

Broadly speak­ing, a brand com­mis­sion­ing il­lus­tra­tion also subtly com­mu­ni­cates a level of thought and at­ten­tion. In a sim­i­lar way to brands work­ing with be­spoke, hand-drawn ty­pog­ra­phy, even dig­i­tally cre­ated il­lus­tra­tion hints at a per­son be­hind a brand. This helps build its story and tells us that there’s more to the prod­uct than just ‘buy me’.

As Chloe Tem­ple­man, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Design Bridge puts it, the no­tion of image as story is as, “old as cave paint­ings and hi­ero­glyph­ics, and has come full cir­cle to emo­jis. An il­lus­tra­tion route is straight to the point: it’s an in­stant emo­tional con­nec­tion that can sur­pass lan­guage bar­ri­ers.”


Thirst Craft is a Glas­gow-based brand­ing and design agency spe­cial­is­ing in the drinks sec­tor, whose port­fo­lio boasts no short­age of richly il­lus­trated de­signs. Ac­cord­ing to cre­ative di­rec­tor Matt Burns, it’s lit­tle sur­prise that the craft beer sec­tor in par­tic­u­lar has latched onto il­lus­tra­tion as the per­fect con­duit for com­mu­ni­cat­ing a brand’s at­ti­tude and unique­ness. “Il­lus­tra­tion is cre­ated by the hand, and that hand-ren­dered touch lends it­self nicely to craft beer, and the whole ‘brewed by hand’ story,” he says. “There’s some­thing personable about il­lus­tra­tion, so it’s a great way to com­mu­ni­cate and tell a story of that brew­ery, but there’s also some­thing kind of quite edgy and vis­ually ex­cit­ing about il­lus­tra­tion, which is why it works well on pack.”

Burns adds that il­lus­tra­tion is en­gag­ing and has a lot of en­ergy, mean­ing that peo­ple can re­ally re­late to it. “It cap­tures that level of ex­cite­ment and emo­tion: with things like the Beaver­town brew­ery stuff, peo­ple love it – rather than be­ing a sales tool, it’s a piece of art. Peo­ple want to keep the cans, and you don’t get that with other pack­ag­ing.”

Hired Guns Cre­ative is an agency based in British


Columbia, Canada which, like Thirst Craft, has cho­sen to spe­cialise in solely cre­at­ing de­signs for al­co­hol, with most of its work across the craft beer sec­tor and the ma­jor­ity of that work re­ly­ing on il­lus­tra­tion in one form or an­other. So why is craft beer such a rich font of il­lus­trated pack­ag­ing? “A lot of it comes down to try­ing to com­pete on shelf,” says man­ag­ing part­ner Leif Miltenberger. “The craft beer mar­ket in North Amer­ica and in the UK is ex­plod­ing, so ev­ery prod­uct on that shelf is try­ing to scream as loud as it can for at­ten­tion. Re­ally bold, eye-catch­ing il­lus­tra­tion is a good way to stand out, and is dif­fi­cult for other com­pa­nies to em­u­late. A lot of craft beer com­pa­nies have pack­ag­ing design that’s very min­i­mal­ist, and although you can stand out through ty­pog­ra­phy, bright colours, or cer­tain print­ing tech­niques, it’s eas­ier for an­other com­pany to come along and repli­cate that.”

For craft beer in par­tic­u­lar, brands are sell­ing an at­ti­tude as much as a liq­uid: “A lot of peo­ple in that space re­ally try to align them­selves with coun­ter­cul­ture through their brand, and il­lus­tra­tion is a great way to do that. You can design things for the craft beer guys that ma­jor beer or spirit brands would be too scared to do,” says Miltenberger. Some­what un­usu­ally, Hired Guns chooses to cre­ate all its il­lus­tra­tion in-house, mostly by cre­ative di­rec­tor Richard Hat­ter.


When a brand com­mis­sions il­lus­tra­tion work, it’s not only a way of aug­ment­ing or cre­at­ing a more co­he­sive brand world or mes­sage, it sends out a sig­nal that it cares about its prod­uct, and the peo­ple that are buy­ing it. A dis­tinc­tive, char­ac­ter­ful il­lus­tra­tion is a sym­bol of unique­ness and dis­tinc­tion, im­me­di­ately el­e­vat­ing it above non­de­script sys­tem fonts or less own­able colour pal­ettes.

“It shows they value the ap­pear­ance of the prod­uct as well as what’s in­side,” says Miltenberger. “Some peo­ple think that if the prod­uct is good enough, it’ll be suc­cess­ful, but that’s not the case. It’s a su­per­com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Some­times you get the feel­ing from the il­lus­tra­tion that they’re try­ing to tar­get a cer­tain de­mo­graphic – maybe some­thing hand-drawn to feel au­then­tic and ap­peal to mil­len­ni­als or hip­sters or what­ever name they have on their de­mo­graphic. But big­ger cor­po­ra­tions more and more are co-opt­ing that ap­proach: a hand­drawn gin la­bel doesn’t mean its cre­ated in small batches by some­one who cares.”

As Burns points out, such in­tri­cate pack­ag­ing is also a cru­cial hook – es­pe­cially within the craft beer sec­tor: “The pack­ag­ing is what makes peo­ple buy the first one, and the prod­uct makes them buy the sec­ond, third and fourth.”

Care­ful and con­sid­ered com­mis­sion­ing also gives the sense of a brand be­ing not just about prod­uct, but artistry. “Be­ing seen as a cre­ative brand is price­less,” says cre­ative strate­gist and de­signer Si­las Amos. “For brands, it’s about cre­at­ing an aura around them­selves. The more avant-garde you are or the more you vis­ually snag, the more you’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

There’s also the ques­tion of how much a brand is seen to be in­vest­ing in craft, con­tin­ues Amos. “Craft is telling a story, and that tends to be whim­si­cal – pic­tures are a good way to tell whim­si­cal sto­ries.”

One of the rea­sons we’ve re­cently seen a wave of il­lus­tra­tion that hints at care, craft and her­itage is the

Thirst Craft used il­lus­tra­tions to cre­ate the brand­ing for Fuller’s sea­sonal range of brews.

Smirnoff Choose Love was a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Rob Bai­ley and Design Bridge.

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