It’s hard to imagine modern online media without any photos or illustrations—many articles stick out to us not because of their titles, but because of their design and multimedia elements. We’ll tell you how to develop an imagery style for your media outlet or blog so you can use photos and illustrations to enhance your written work.
While both photos and illustrations help attract a reader’s attention, a well done illustration can almost stand out as content itself. Take the illustrations on The New Yorker website—they have thousands of likes, much more than the average text content. It’s easy to share illustrations, so investing in them is investing in the growth of your publication.
Use illustrations to explain abstract themes.
Socio-political topics can be hard to explain or illustrate in a photo, but a well-done illustration can help people understand them quickly. Moreover, illustrations are very good when it is necessary to emphasize the emotion of your article, like in this serious article about violence. In some cases it may be appropriate to insert cartoons as well, like for some political topics or when explaining a process. You can also use illustrations when it’s impossible to take photos. For example, Financial Times has made illustrations an important part of its column Lunch with the FT, where photographs might harder to get.
Describe your illustrative style in order to work with freelance graphic designers.
Like when describing your photo style, you should include technical details like line width, technique, file size, etc. Moreover, you should define your style: pin-up, dot illustration, painting, etc. In order to find a style that is suitable for your media outlet, collect reference material of illustrations you like. We recommend you to make mood boards and then add your own pictures to them to understand how everything might look together.
Experiment with various types of illustrations.
Some problems may be solved with the use of simple vector icons. It’s very easy to draw them and they’ll save the situation when you have to release a news item, but you don’t have time and/or budget for doing full-fledged illustration. You can find icons online and publish your piece very quickly. Don’t assume every illustration has to be super detailed—try different things and see what works.
5 illustrators worth following.
Make detailed briefs for illustrators.
Tell a designer about the general visual style of your media outlet, explain what emotions should be brought out by his or her work, share reference materials, and send the whole copy of your article to give them context. (This can be done before the article goes through final editing so you don’t slow down the publishing process!)
Keep an eye on the visual style of other media outlets, and save what you like for inspiration.
Follow specialized blogs (e.g., It’s Nice That) and your favourite illustrators on Dribble, Behance and Pinterest. You can search for inspiring work on Instagram using the tag #illustration, follow some illustrators, and then follow who they follow.
Cover illustrations can make or break your story.
If you only have one illustration for your piece, it should be set in the beginning and convey the topic to the greatest possible extent. The meaning of cover illustrations should be understandable without text since people may be seeing them before they click on the article.
Think carefully about where illustrations are throughout your piece.
Don’t publish several illustrations one after another. Find a good rhythm. If there are several illustrations, they should be arranged so that they supplement the respective parts of the text. Small pictures may be used to transition from one part of your article to another. Don’t limit yourself to one style or type of visual information: add infographics, maps, and diagrams, if needed.
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
When you are just starting, it is very likely that you don’t have the budget to pay freelancers for a lot of illustration. But there are many ways to supplement your article, so look for creative ways to do so! For example, turn a photo into an illustration using applications like Prisma or find a picture in the illustration database.
Illustration on the cover: Victoria Boyko