BRING A BRAND TO LIFE WITH ILLUSTRATION
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
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
“REALLY BOLD, EYE-CATCHING ILLUSTRATION IS A GOOD WAY TO STAND OUT, AND IS DIFFICULT FOR OTHER COMPANIES TO EMULATE” LEIF MILTENBERGER, HIRED GUNS CREATIVE
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.
INVESTING IN CRAFT
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.