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What is the difference between graphic design and illustration?

Marketing and advertising involve using evidence and research to create visuals that drive outcomes – and two key elements of that are graphic design and illustration.

Whether you’ve dabbled in designing birthday party invitations, created flyers for the local footy club barbecue, or even put together your own business letterhead, one thing is true: every one of us thinks we have a little designer inside us.

We may have varying degrees of aesthetic appreciation, but we certainly know what looks good and what doesn’t.

Oh, and that noise you hear is the sound of a million marketing professionals gently banging their heads against the wall.

Marketing and advertising involve using evidence and research to create visuals that drive outcomes – and two key elements of that are graphic design and illustration.

And while, yes, graphic design and illustration involve some artistic flair, the two disciplines are based on a sophisticated understanding of how people consume and digest information in the visual form and go much deeper than simply creating something that looks nice.

With that in mind, here are the key differences between graphic design and illustration.

What is graphic design?

Graphic design, put simply, is the visuals you use to convey your marketing message.

It’s the broad visual concept, which includes the strategic creation and arrangement of elements such as text and images, in a way commonly known as layout.

Graphic design uses devices to achieve this, like the use of particular colours, fonts, and boxes or shapes to emphasise key points, but others are the less known tricks of the trade.

A-line, for example, is a method of arranging sub-headings, dividers or connectors – even empty space – to draw the attention of the viewer to a particular place on the page.

Graphic design is also employed to create branding for a business, which can incorporate everything from a logo to distinctive brand assets to a broader branding identity, which is directed by a design style guide to inform the use of colours, fonts, branded collateral and more.

Developing a brand identity for a business goes beyond simply creating a pretty picture – it needs to visually communicate who the business, what it offers and potentially even hint at the industry it sits in.

What is illustration?

Illustrations are particular elements that are included within the graphic design of a marketing campaign.

Illustration can include images, infographics or drawings, and they are often used to visually convey a specific topic or explanation.

You often see illustrations in magazines and newspapers, on video games and book covers, or on company webpages.

Broadly, illustrations can be broken up into two types: vector graphics and freehand graphic images.

Vector graphics are developed by digital tools that create graphic images, using lines and shapes. Freehand graphic images are the digital equivalent of pencil and paper, where the illustrator draws the illustration by hand.

How do graphic design and illustration differ?

Graphic designers and illustrators have very different skill sets and talents that come together to achieve marketing goals.

Graphic designers have an intimate knowledge of how people approach a marketing campaign and how they move about it, and they understand the tools and devices used to achieve the desired outcome, usually a sale.

Illustrators, on the other hand, have a deep understanding of how to create an image that will evoke the desired emotions, or explain a concept visually.

Illustrators and graphic designers often work in collaboration. A graphic design can easily be derailed by an illustration that doesn’t amplify its visual message, and an illustration can fall flat if the graphic design of the page on which it sits detracts from its message or overwhelms the page.

How is graphic design and illustration used in marketing?

Illustrations and graphic design must work in synergy to create the desired visual outcomes of a marketing campaign.

In marketing we often talk about the ‘look and feel’ of a campaign, which basically refers to the overall visual impact of a campaign, and both graphic design and illustration work together to create it. Yet, many people tend to focus more on the ‘look’ and less on the ‘feel’.

We can probably think of a few marketing campaigns that we loved the look of. Maybe an ad that looked sleek or sophisticated; perhaps it was lively or fun. Yet, from a marketing perspective, the look of a design is only as effective as the way it makes the consumer feel.

Does a marketing campaign convey status and success? Does it evoke feelings of family togetherness and fun? These emotions are created by the graphic design of a campaign. The illustrations in a campaign build on the look and feel, but also visually adds information.

Whether you love or hate a graphic design or illustration, they’re only bad if together they fail to reach the particular audience or achieve a desired outcome.

The fancy and sophisticated visuals of an upmarket hotel probably won’t be pleasing to someone who’s looking for a cheap weekend rental. Similarly, the garish and bright design of campaigns favoured by car yards and repair joints absolutely appeal to the males who shop there.

Call in the graphic design and illustration experts

Assemblo is a full-service marketing agency based in Melbourne, and we work with some of the country’s best graphic designers and illustrators, known not just for their fine work, but their ability to use their know-how and experience to build marketing campaigns that deliver tangible bottom-line results for their clients.

To find out how we can help your business, give us a call on (03) 9079 2555 or send us a note via the contact form below.

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