Characters are all around us and we love them. They are the protagonists of the cartoons we grew up with, the stars in the video games we play, and the heroes in the movies we pay to see.
But characters can offer way more than a sense of nostalgia. In design, their carefully crafted personalities can transform the way you see a product and how you receive a brand.
While the practice of illustration dates as far back as 15,000 B.C with paintings on cave walls, the commercial value of illustration wasn’t realised until the late 1800s. At that time publishing companies sought new and interesting ways to stand out from their competitors and meet an increasing demand to deliver affordable entertainment to people.
These illustrations were made using several traditional print processes, including watercolour, oil painting and lithography. And while they were often beautiful and intricate pieces, they were also costly and very time-consuming to produce.
Illustrator: Alphonse Mucha – Nouvelle Femme, 1897
Fast forward to today, where innovative digital production methods continue to push the limits of what is possible. Introducing characters and worlds that were previously unimaginable.
Characters give you a tool to set the tone and communicate a message that’s difficult to match with photography alone.
With that in mind, illustration has stretched much further than just the need to entertain. Some brands have become inseparable from their illustrative style, using it to bring a unique tone of voice to what they do. Whether it be to guide users around their product or explain their delivery process more succinctly.
Setting an example
After its split with Lloyds bank in 2013, TSB embraced the use of illustration as a way of carving out a new identity for itself. The unique style it adopted has grown with the brand and over time more characters and scenarios were introduced, appearing in advertising for television, print and online. This illustration style is unique and instantly recognisable and has since become synonymous with the brand.
Illustrator: Steve Small for TSB, 2013
Another good example is Mailchimp, the popular e-mail marketing tool that bucked the common ‘clean’ aesthetic embodied by many technology companies by using playful illustrations with a hand-drawn style throughout all of its media channels. This helped to convey a sense of fun and joy into their brand and appeal to a wider audience of would-be e-mail creators.
Simple does not mean easy
As the use of character illustration has become more widespread, so have the examples of how not to use characters. This includes brands seeking out animated ‘explainer videos’ for the sake of having them, without fully understanding their purpose.
Many of these ill-conceived brand videos lose sight of the audience and fall far short of winning customers. So businesses should understand the problem they are trying to solve before reaching out, to ensure that what they create is meaningful and considered.
A force for good
Character creation acts as a democratic force in design. In a time where representation is at the heart of public consciousness, a character can connect with a wider audience through the power of illustration. Simply put, if you can strip a character down to its core characteristics you can appeal to a wider demographic and be as inclusive as possible.
Characters can also be a practical route for smaller brands with a strict budget and logistical limitations.
The process of casting, hiring, and filming a video is replaced with the process of illustration and animating simple characters, which can be equally, if not more successful.
If you think your brand needs some added character to bring it to life, get in touch with us to see how we can create something as unique as you are.