4 IDEO Designers' Tips for Better Visual Storytelling
Learn how to create a visual language that can be used to transform all levels of communication, from individual stories to entire fields.
By Ashley Tillman and Chelsea Takamine
Every story begins with the foundation of language. Oftentimes, when we think about language, our minds default to written text and spoken conversation. However, language is more than words alone—language is any way of communicating across mediums that brings an idea, topic, or conversation to life. Data shows that the medium of communication most aligned with the human brain is visual language. The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. As designers, when we explore the craft of storytelling, visual language may be one of the most important languages of them all.
OpenIDEO, in partnership with the Hewlett Foundation, is launching its first Challenge centered around visual language. We’re calling on visual creators from a multitude of mediums to join us in answering the following question:
Through this Challenge, we will support illustrators, artists, and creators to elevate the existing visual language of cybersecurity through the power of design, and in doing so, reshape the global impact of this topic.
To support Challenge participants, we’ve curated some tips and tricks from IDEO designers across disciplines about how they design with visual language. Apply what you learn from Felicia, Erika, May, and Allison by participating in The Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge.
Felicia Chiao is an industrial designer and illustrator based in San Francisco. By day, she works as an industrial designer for IDEO's Design for Food team, and at night she has been drawing in sketchbooks for over seven years, mostly for fun.
Felicia's Design Tips
"When starting a composition, create an anchor first and then build around it. The anchor can be the focus of the piece (like an object/animal/person) or a setting (interior, beach, city, etc.) and the rest of the elements drawn in after should support it."
You don’t need to know what the whole drawing is going to look like when you start it. Start with what you know and build into it as you go. If you don't enjoy what you're making it will show, so if something you're working on doesn't feel right, bite the bullet and start over instead of wasting time overworking it. I work mostly with markers, which often limits my choice of colors for the color palette, but you can start with the colors you know you will use (a red apple, blue water, etc) and then looking at your palette, pick which other colors would go well with what you have.
Erika was born in Colombia and loves creating stories without words. She thinks that telenovelas are more interesting than science fiction.
Erika's Design Tips
"Create your own personal and technical rules; fail, win and be patient."
Learn from yourself. Document, revisit and appreciate what you designed in the past. Explore your personal craft and celebrate your creator's identity. Make and repeat. Go analog, explore both your personal and craft's constraints, and don't let your commercial work take over. Art and side projects are the best teachers.
May is a true-crime-podcast-listening, plant caring, constantly eating, Japanese-American graphic designer. She strives to make good design, travel the world, and become the mother of five dogs at some point in her life.
May's Design Tips
"Try limiting your color palette to 1-5 colors, and even limit the shades of those colors. Explore how simply you can communicate depth and perspective with the layering of the limited palette. You can start with monochrome in pure black and white, before layering the additional complexity of color."
Always be hungry for discovery. The thing that motivates me the most is experimentation and exploration. I'm always looking for new mediums to try out and play in, whether it be in 2D, 3D, digital, motion, etc. I find that as long as I'm constantly doing and learning something new, I stay inspired and excited about the work. However, don’t look at too much inspiration. Sometimes, I can get lost on the Pinterest train, clicking into link after link after link. Visual overload can crowd and push out your own ideas, so be careful to balance looking externally and looking internally. Inspiration can only help so much. Save space for your own creativity to flow.
Allison is an interaction designer and strategist at IDEO on a mission to design for the public good. Whether it’s improving how public institutions serve their citizens, creating digital access to learning, or cultivating civic engagement, she is driven toward systems-level challenges with optimism and obsession for figuring out how design can be used to more equitably serve people. In her spare time, she enjoys making gifts that celebrate the people who make her life full.
Alison's Design Tips
"A balanced composition has three things—a large element (like a colored background), a medium element (like the focal point), and a small element (to add visual texture)."
If you want to take your creation to the next level, adding a little bit of texture in digital illustrations goes a long way.
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