By Michelle Barnett
  1. Home
  2. Insights
  3. Article

Illustrating Diversity

Human beings are an incredibly varied crowd.  Our height, age, ethnicity, location (from continents to towns), sex, weight, attractiveness, dress sense… or lack of it; the list is as long as the human race itself. 

When your brand needs images of people, illustration is a great choice.  Pretty much anything you can think of can be drawn, making it easy to cover a lot of ground smoothly.  Even with a tight style and limited colour palette, you can bring interest and variety to your figures.  

There’s really no reason not to include this diversity in your branding and marketing.  To depict the full spectrum of our world… it’s just the right thing to do.  

Illustration by Alice Lee for Wordpress of a diverse group of characters

Illustration by Alice Lee for WordPress

However with our current focus on intense data gathering and targeted marketing, companies can slip back into restricting the range of people they show.  Creating tailored personas is really useful as an internal strategy to identify your market.  However if you do this when advertising externally to your audience you risk portraying an ideal client so specific they don’t exist!

Homogeny doesn’t have to be a hard bubble to break out of.  And as a bonus, it makes good business sense.

Illustrating diversity helps visualisation

Seeing someone who looks like them helps audiences picture themselves in that position, using that service or product.  The imagery needs to be relatable to the audience, but that doesn’t mean everybody in it is exactly the same.  There will be common features, but many differences too.  Adding in even a small range of details increases the chance that your viewer sees features they recognise.

Illustration by Meg Robichaud for Medium of a diverse group of characters

Illustration by Meg Robichaud for Medium

Let’s imagine that your target persona is British career women in their 40s.  These women won’t all have come from the same backgrounds, and won’t all have the same plans for their lives.

Some of our 40 year old women will be smart corporate types, while others may be casually dressed small-business owners.  Some will be from urban centres (not just London!) but others will be rural.  They will have a range of skin colours, cultures and faiths.  There will be a mix of singles and partnered, with varying numbers of children.  Some will be more active than others, and have a range of body shapes and health issues.  They’ll have different hobbies, from flower arranging to rock concerts.  All these things can be shown visually, and before you know it a very narrow demographic has been given a lot of depth.

Embrace the Global Market!

There’s a reason they used to call it the World Wide Web.  When you create a web presence for your business, you’re also opting to be seen by every smart phone wielder on the planet.  According to statistica that’s over two billion people!  Any one of them could find your website, even accidentally. 

You like people, don’t you?  You want people to visit you and look around, right?  So you should make them feel at home, whether you were expecting them or not.  Deliberately including diversity rolls out the welcome mat.  It says ‘This could also be for you’.  Who knows, it might even open up new markets for your business.

Ethical branding creates Brand Loyalty

Illustration by Christian Robinson for the book Last Stop On Market Street

Illustration by Christian Robinson

Consumers expect a level of transparency and social awareness from their businesses.  Gone is brand loyalty in the traditional sense of sticking with one firm through thick and thin, no matter how they treat you. 

Instead, consumers use their loyalty to reward ethical behaviour as well as good products and services.  With internet access constantly available, there’s no reason not to shop around and base a purchase on more than just low prices.

Using diverse illustrations in your brand says that your business is welcoming to everyone, considers the needs of individuals, and has inclusive values.  Just make sure that your actions match the promise made by your branding! 

Always meant to fix that wheelchair ramp? Do some staff diversity training? Search for local translators to help with customer service? Now is the time to ensure you have the right policies in place!

Diverse imagery supports your message

Loughborough University commissioned us to brand their Executive Education courses.  They were targeting people who might have counted themselves out of gaining further qualifications due to having full time jobs.  We needed to show that higher education was an option for anyone, and that meant drawing a world where lots of different people were part of that process.  This was especially important as Leicestershire is one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the UK.

We built scenes that reflected the multi-cultural reality of life in the Midlands.  A mixed race family, an Indian employer, black and Hispanic tutors, an Asian mentoring partner, and an equal mix of men and women in an academic environment. 

A strength of illustration is that while it can show reality, it can also depict possibilities.  This complimented the message of the brand: that the University wanted to enable people to achieve, regardless of their starting position in life.

Illustration by a dozen eggs for Loughborough University, of a student joining a higher education course

Illustration by a dozen eggs for Loughborough University

It’s fun!

It’s just so much more interesting to look at a group of characters that aren’t all clones of each other. Variety is the spice of life. after all. It’s more interesting to create as well.  Even when I’m using a very simple style, and working with just a few colours, it’s great to have free rein to be creative.

Little details catch the viewer’s eye and encourage them to spend more time with the design.  And the longer they spend with it, the more the message sinks in.

When it’s new to your brand, being inclusive can feel like a learning curve that pushes at your comfort zones, but it’s a change that’s well worth the effort.

How to choose an illustration style

Selecting an illustration style that matches and extends the brand is harder than it sounds! How do you know what will work?

Michelle Barnett - 11/08/2017
An impossible task?

Can you develop a brand that targets (at least) 51% of the population? Strong brands have defined audiences, strong campaigns identify with large swaths of the population - is political branding possible?

Fran Johnson - 12/04/2018
The Importance of Nothing

Why is white space important to a designer? A tool to aid communication and allow space for typography and colour to take prominence.

Peter Vickers - 11/03/2016
What will branding look like in 10 years time?

Individualised communication, Flexible branding and no big brand launches are the predictions of what branding will look like in 10 years time.

Fran Johnson - 13/09/2017