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When illustrations are worth a thousand photos

Illustrators are an incredibly underused service in marketing. I’d guess that in much of your marketing material, when you know that words alone are going to be too dull, you reach for the photo library, either your own or stock images. This is why so much sales literature contains those awful images of shiny people in shiny offices pointing at shiny things. I’ve been as much of a culprit in this respect as anyone else.

If you’re trying to explain something, it’s quite likely that a photo won’t make things any clearer. It’ll just be there to brighten up the page. An illustration, whether it’s an innovative image, a process chart or a text-heavy “infographic”, can do a real job of attracting attention and helping to get your point over.

A couple of years ago, in our own company sales brochure, I stopped myself just as I was reaching for yet another stock photo to liven up the page. The concept I was describing was very nebulous, and the photo wouldn’t have really had much relevance. Instead, I thought: “wouldn’t an abstract illustration actually look much better?” One email to a great illustrator I know, and I’d commissioned something which was probably the best thing in the whole publication. It took me 10 minutes to sketch out what I wanted, a couple of days for the illustrator to deliver it, and an investment which didn’t significantly dent the publication’s budget.

That one got me out of a corner when the subject was too vague for a relevant photo. But illustrations can be very specific too, showing a process clearly. Take a look at some of the best infographics around for examples. The same illustrators who can create abstract images like the one above can usually do text-heavy explanatory diagrams too. And there are many opportunities for repurposing great illustrations, particularly as display boards.

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