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A sport-themed story map by Ben O'Brien, used to tell the past and future story of ING bank A sport-themed story map by Ben O'Brien, used to tell the past and future story of ING bank

BRINGING COLOUR TO CORPORATE COMMS

Freelance illustrator Ben O'Brien explains how a more visual and colourful outlook can bring corporate messages to life for an internal audience.

18th July 2017

Narrative illustration can be really effective when talking to employees. The few I’ve done simplify an organisation’s story.

BEN O'BRIEN

How early did you get on the creative path?

As a kid, I liked art. Everything came under the banner of ‘art’. I didn’t consider illustration. Almost 20 years ago, I worked in an animation studio. I was never concerned with the animation process – just how things looked and functioned. Someone said I should try illustration – and everything clicked. I realised it was what I wanted to do.

Do you have a style?

I like things to be colourful, clean and eye-catching. I use geometric shapes whenever I can.

What’s your creative process like?

When I get a brief and need to come up with a few conceptual ideas, it’s easier for me to sketch things. I draw quite cleanly so that it makes sense to a client. The client may like elements from different ideas, and I see if we can compromise and pull it together. I scan the drawing and put it into Adobe Illustrator and sketch it with a pen tool.

Is Adobe Illustrator still the be all and end all of illustration?

For a long time, there was only Illustrator and Photoshop, and they’re both Adobe so they work together well. Recently, Affinity Designer has come on the scene. It’s the first software that competes. Some of the tools and effects are different. I still use Adobe Illustrator, as I’ve used it for so long, but it’s nice to have another option.

Why would a client choose an illustration for its project?

I do a lot of internal comms and corporate work, such as annual reports. Some of the companies I work for say they want to bring a bit of colour or something visually interesting to dry subject matter.

Can you really make financial figures engaging to the masses?

It’s about giving content broad appeal. Say you are producing a report for a car company, there are financial people who want to see a simple list of figures, but staff in manufacturing or marketing might not be drawn to that. Putting the information into an infographic can simplify it and make it more interesting for a diverse group.

Does illustration have a role beyond publishing?

Narrative illustration can be really effective when talking to employees. The few I’ve done simplify an organisation’s story – from where the company has come from to its plans and aspirations – and have been used by leaders to visualise their presentations.

What do clients need to do to help illustrators?

They should tell them something, however brief, about the industry or company. If I go to a client’s office, I get some understanding of the culture – but you don’t always get the opportunity to visit. If you don’t know the ethos, you don’t know how formal or informal the client is in its communication – whether they want something serious, colourful, family friendly or tongue in cheek.

And what do illustrators need to tell clients?

Illustrators need to advise the client how long things take. Pencil drawings don’t take long, but there are other things that I can’t possibly do “for tomorrow”. It’s important that everyone knows when concepts and a general style need to be completely signed off. If you get far into the illustrative process and a client’s boss or colleague sees it for the first time and doesn’t like the style, the illustrator has to start from scratch. Changing colours is easy enough, but I can’t quickly produce the image from a different angle.

So scheduling is pretty important to the success of a project?

Absolutely. We don’t need to be looking over each other’s shoulders, but we should be in regular contact. Even if you are a freelancer in a different part of the country, you have to act as if you’re in the same company at the desk next to your client.

Anything you’re working on at the moment that you’re quite pleased with?

I did an annual report for Greenpeace. I’m quite environmental, and it was interesting to see how a public company runs and to do some nice little environmental scenes. I’m also working with Bath Spa University on a computer game,based on letters a father had written home during the war and aimed at students aged around 16. It’s really interesting.

View more of Ben's work and illustrations at bentheillustrator.com

Narrative illustration can be really effective when talking to employees. The few I’ve done simplify an organisation’s story.

BEN O'BRIEN

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