Whilst most of our Visual Thinking work features photography and videography to aid in the telling of our insight stories, we are equally open to the graphic arts as a potent (and, indeed, more venerable) storytelling medium. Illustration in particular is a method that has held traction within the insight industry for some time as a useful tool for depicting and encapsulating events and ideas ‘in-the-moment’. We spoke to co-creation illustrator and Visual Thinker Beci Ward to get her take on why illustration and research go so well together.
What do you think insight and illustration have in common?
For me, it’s about that shared curiosity about the world around us. As an illustrator, I find myself drawn to the details of everyday things. I have a strong desire to record how people feel and how they behave and try to capture this in the most accurate way possible.
I think, this desire to capture helps me when I am in a room full of people at a co-creation workshop. Getting the balance between listening to what’s going on in a general sense, but also been attentive to those very insightful gems that point to something deeper. I believe the connection between illustration and research is an eye for detail on the one hand and being able to distil and communicate complex ideas on the other.
Tell us a bit more about the illustration process, what makes a good illustrator for insight?
It’s about being really bold with your drawings. You have to be able to think on your feet, jump in there and get straight to work. Confidence is the main attribute, as it enables you to capture the key ideas without second-guessing. In the fast-paced environment, you haven’t got the time to consider variations on what you are going to draw; you should have already drawn it and moved onto the next idea. With that in mind, another key attribute is to be intuitive almost instinctual with your drawing ability.
Part of being a good researcher is how well you deal with the people you encounter. How does this apply to your role as an illustrator?
It can be quite intimidating to be drawing in front of a group of people. Some illustrators are introverted, so may find this to be a real challenge. As long as you can embrace the performative aspect of your role, you will be all right! It’s very rewarding to see people connecting with ideas, as you bring them to life in real time. This style of illustration lends itself very well to my personality; I’d rather be collaborating with others than working alone on my drawings.
What do you think are some of the specific things that illustration has to offer the insight process?
Well, a lot of the work I do is in co-creation workshops, where it really helps to be able to see how ideas have developed and trace that process back at a glance. Having someone illustrating the concepts live adds a real energy to the room and often helps people clarify their ideas or think about them in different way than when seen on paper.
I think, where illustration differs from photography or film is that it can be more direct in capturing the ideas, moods and emotions. Whilst photographers strongly consider their shots, illustrators can document not just what they see, but the opinions and feelings of the surrounding people. Been able to observe the illustrative process is also important for the onlooker, giving it a collaborative edge.
What about outside the workshops? Do you think there is a room for illustration ‘in the field’?
I really believe there is. Documenting people as they move around the city is something I have had previous experience with. I followed a performance artist around the underground at rush hour, documenting in my sketchbook what she was doing, where she was going, how she interacted with the crowd and what people we encountered. I think, there are certain skills practiced in the workshop that could definitely be transferred into the wider world. It was an exhilarating experience, and would love to do something like that again!