As a web designer, one of the first things I think about when planning a site for a client is what kind of visuals it’s going to have. This quickly leads to the question of illustration vs. photography? This post will look at the strengths of both of these bases.
Both illustration-based and photo-based are fabulous options when executed properly so what’s the big deal? The decision comes in when you look at the need of the client and what they’re all about. Are they a hearing aids company trying to teach others about the human ear? Or are they a transportation company attempting to win over folks who would otherwise take a taxi cab? Much of your answer depends on that. If an emotional pull is what you need, photography is often the way to go. This is because people connect with faces. Seeing a person getting out of a car with a look of satisfaction, determination, and hope conveys a much more powerful emotional pull than an illustration-based image of a car going somewhere. Likewise, a bakery website isn’t going to show you hand-drawn food because that won’t evoke an emotional response the same way a picture of a decadent chocolate cake will. Yum!
On the flip side, an illustration-based website can speak more quickly to the logical part of your brain. In the ear website mentioned above, the interactive model is easy to understand and makes learning enjoyable. If you simply had a photograph of the ear, both inner and outer, the website would need a warning that it’s not for the faint of heart. Illustration -based design can also convey that the company is both savvy and current. A young hip company like Spotify can’t just show a photo of an artist when they’re featuring thousands of music-makers. It also wouldn’t do to display an image of someone listening to music. Not only would that be a boring photo, it also doesn’t convey any sense of connection or social enjoyment.
So, next time you find yourself at an enjoyable website, ask yourself what you’re seeing. Is it a photo of pristine collared shirts? A portfolio website demonstrating drawing skills? An interior designer showing the benefits of marble countertops? Whatever you’re looking at, be it photo or illustrated, you now know why you feel the response that you have—it was carefully planned to evoke your response through design.