Observations on Design and Illustration #7: Definition of Illustration.

Design Pet Peeve #7:  Lack of Correlation. Correlation means agreement among parts, interrelationship, or connection.  In design, the short meaning is that once an element of any kind is introduced into a system or project, the look, size, and placement of that element should remain the same throughout its use.  It can be color-coding, type styles, shapes, sizes, placement, or the like.  But, a breakdown of standardized usage in a design can produce a confusing or downright dangerous situation.  I’ll give one example of poor correlation: E-mail and document-forwarding sites allow you to include attachments with the prompt button marked “attach” or “attachment.”  But on some sites, when you get to the point where you have an attachment ready to include, the prompt button says “enclose,” or worse, “open,” instead of “attach.”  This may seem like a minor point, but if you were to expand the dilemma created by this type of poor correlation to something larger, like a web site or the logic of a building’s layout, the results would be confusion and frustration.  If extrapolated to the scale of an airport communications system, the results could border on catastrophic .

What’s my point? When creating the more complicated designs, maintaining consistency among parts is key.

Definition of Illustration

With this installment, I am leaving the world of design and entering into a series of comments on illustration.  At a later date I will devote one posting to a combination of the two.

From cave art to computers, an illustration (noun) is any visual image created for a specific purpose, such as to promulgate a concept, promote a commodity, or accompany work in another medium.  The purpose of illustration is to compliment, expand upon, explain, illuminate, beautify, and/or enhance the illustration's accompanying materials or activities.  Illustration can sometimes be adornment, decoration, or ornamentation, but it is always visual communication.  As such, the original theme or concept for an illustration is often shared by more than one person, and the work in the post-printing world is very often created as a collaboration involving an illustrator, a client, a publisher, a distribution mode, and an end consumer.

In the modern world of media, an illustration's usual first use is in reproduction or transmission, whereas the primary use for other forms of art is in direct observation of originals.  That, in my opinion, is the primary distinction between illustration and fine art, not necessarily the content, and certainly not the creativity or competence of execution.  The purposes and processes of illustration before printing were most likely also collaborative in their own way, despite the fact that mass reproduction was not part of the picture.  If we go back to the beginnings in the Upper Paleolithic (roughly 30,000 years ago), illustration was already a vital part of human existence.  But the concept of illustration as a group effort, and its purposes and uses at that time can only be speculated upon, and should not be considered in the same context as more recent times.  More on that when I discuss the history of illustration.

One point can be made with certainty.  By far the majority of the visuals created throughout the long history of human cultures have not been “art” at all, but images, information, icons, decoration, schemata, symbols, graphics, notation, pictures, and the like; in other words, illustrations.  As such, they have often been subject to the same scrutiny and criticism as fine art -- as media, context, convention, periods, styles, and meaning have evolved.

James Elkins.  The Domain of Images.  1999, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press.

To illustrate (verb) is to create such an image, suitable for its intended first use, with whatever medium or media required by the circumstances.  There are a lot of design and layout considerations involved in the creation of any illustration.  This collaborative quality will be discussed later, after I’ve commented on several aspects of Illustration by itself.

For next time: Observations on Design and Illustration #8: A Brief History of Illustration, Part 1.

Comments, anyone? To find out about my background and experience or send comments, go to www.mapsandwayfinding.com.

Dennis O’Brien