5 reasons why your next corporate website should feature illustration and 5 reasons why it might not

5 reasons why your next corporate website should feature illustration and 5 reasons why it might not

So you are creating your new corporate website.

Your web agency is beavering away on the designs, you have instructed various departments to submit their content, you have hired a copywriter to polish the copy, you are about to sign the new hosting contracts, the CMS training is in the calendar and you have even started planning for mobile optimisation. Life feels pretty good, until you get to the part where you have to source images to fill those large, grey placeholders in the wireframes.

If you are fortunate, your organisation produces über-sexy products like medical equipment, Audi car parts, or bicycles whose magnificent design is already captured and sitting in the corporate image library. But, if you are like a large number of corporations then your offering is either intangible, like services or software, or not handsome enough to front your marketing and sales. Your web agency probably suggested a conceptual photo shoot, but in the end that felt like one production headache too many. So you fall back to the safe cradle of stock photography and you wheel in the attractive people on their laptops and mobiles, the business gatherings in elegant surroundings and the smiley, racially balanced operators. And since most of your competitors, suppliers, partners and customers do the same, you sink your brand to the bottomless depths of obscurity.

But have you considered commissioning original illustration instead? Here are 5 reasons why you should:

  • With illustration the sky is the limit. Stock photography is very limiting for obvious reasons. Commissioned photography also has its limits: your finite budget allows for only so many props, locations, or people; the laws of physics (as well as those of England) limit what you can do with all this stuff; the day of the shoot is your only chance to get it right unless you are sitting on a large pot of cash. On the contrary, illustration can make anything you think of possible. Any concept, no matter how crazy it is, can easily come to life. This will allow you to be truly creative with your ideas and to launch your new website with original, captivating and memorable visuals.
  • Illustration is perfect for bringing abstract concepts to life. Try to find decent stock photos for terms like “consultancy”, “value creation”, “efficiency”, “lean production”, “advisory services”, or “business modelling”. Impossible. Illustration allows you not only to visualise any abstract concept, but also to do it in a way that reflects your organisation’s unique approach.
  • The illustrations are yours and only yours. Commissioned illustration is created exclusively for you and therefore no other company is likely to have anything similar in their possession. As a result, your communications will display an air of uniqueness, something extremely valuable when trying to stand out in a busy marketplace.
  • Illustration can be very emotive. It’s a lot easier for corporate illustration to evoke an emotional response than corporate photography. For example, it would be very hard to photograph a clay shaping scene in order to communicate “business modelling” and not risk your proposition being perceived as murky and unprofessional. Illustration on the other hand can present the same concept very differently, add layers of meaning and turn it into a strong, emotive metaphor – for example you could easily replace the slabs of clay with the building or product of your business.
  • Illustrations have value in their own right. When was the last time your iStockphoto images made you proud? Exactly. Commissioned illustration however has the potential to put a great big grin on your face. The illustrations can also be used in all your corporate communication and framed copies can even decorate your premises. Such extensive use will maximise the value you get out of your investment and certainly make the board happy.

Corporate websites using illustration are hard to come by (unless you include websites of creative agencies – there are millions out there) which makes the differentiation argument even stronger. Here are 8 corporate websites using illustration to deliver their message:

Axure uses illustration to make a rather dull (yet very good) product exciting.

Cognigen uses small illustrations to complement and enliven the adjacent copy.

IBM has created a very rich, illustration-based visual language bringing to life a wide range of topics.

Moody uses illustration in a much bolder way, covering large areas of the website.

Navigant’s illustrations are small, but still very effective.

Organic (an agency indeed) uses very simple, flat colour, vector illustrations. Such simple shapes are very inexpensive to produce but still very distinguishable and memorable.

Redbrick Health uses retro looking illustrations to add a layer or emotion to their message.

Despite our well substantiated display of affection towards illustration above, you are still unlikely to call an illustrator tomorrow to work on your new corporate website. Here are 5 reasons why and our responses:

  • Illustration is too expensive: True, illustration is more expensive than royalty-free stock photography, but the cost can be comparable to rights-managed stock photography (especially if you need over 5 images) as well as to commissioned photography. If your budget is tight, you could even contact the illustration departments of a number of colleges and give your requirements to students as a competitive assignment offering a cash prize to the winner.
  • Illustration will age fast: What would you rather have on your website: illustrations that might look tired after one or two years, or stock photography that will bore your audience to tears from day one?
  • Illustration will never get the board’s approval: Indeed, your board might prefer something as safe and traditional as the oak table they rest their iPads on, but a review of your competition is likely to highlight how similar everyone’s tone of voice is, making a strong argument for the use of illustration.
  • Illustration will be a production headache: Directing an illustrator is no more complicated than directing any supplier working on your website. You could do the direction yourself, or ask your agency’s art or creative director to manage the relationship, especially if he/she owns the concept. Illustration can also be a lot of fun to direct, from coming up with the concepts to seeing the initial sketches and refining the final artwork.
  • iStockphoto is only a click away, but with illustration I don’t know where to start: You can start by browsing through the Contact book or looking at a number of illustration portfolios such as Début Art or Illustration.

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