Research Can Make the Difference Between a Good Design and a Great Design

Here are some ways going the extra mile can help you deliver a better product:

Character. Drawing animals from life instead of memory can add individual character. You would not draw a blank human form, because it doesn’t have enough with which to engage the audience. In animals, a few key details are all it takes: one stunning green eye instead of blue; a spiky tail instead of smooth; or add a scar. Each simple detail can bring personality and life to your illustration.

Fresh color palettes. Many artists favor certain colors that they use for a while like clockwork. I myself, lean toward cool blues and greens rather than sharp reds and blacks. But, as usual, when we experiment by going outside our comfort zones, the results can be surprising and usually well worth the risk. If you are in a rut, looking at some original source material can inspire some new color combinations.

Technical prowess. You may be wondering how useful a technical document is to a surface designer. In point of fact, trade documents can be a golden treasure-trove of style and detail. Not only is advertising keen on the latest and greatest thing, but it captures an exact moment in time better than anything else. You can bet that a model in the background of a bathroom spec document will not wear one item that is not exactly on trend, the same way that a car illustration from 1940 will use only the exact draftsman style of that specific time of year. A specific fat line with a triple arrow can be identified down to a 3-month period. As an illustrator, finding something that unique can be gold.

Trade Secrets. That’s right, even graphic designers reveal trade secrets. Graphic design has been around a long time–well before computers–and when an artist gets good enough, they do what everyone else does. They make some extra money by documenting what they know, leaving behind a body of literature well worth exploring. Read their manuals, but also read memoirs or biographies of your favorite artists. Charles Schulz famously promoted that everything he learned was through the Federal School of Applied Cartooning correspondence courses in cartooning that he took while in high school. Looking back on those vintage books is a treasure trove of trade secrets, not to mention in one of these books I found several original drawings by some talented pupil. You are sure to find something of interest documented.

In this work, I was looking at bathroom tiling from the 1930’s.  The variation in tile forms, sizes and draftsmanship of the ads, as well as the colors, inspired this fun hand drawing, which I worked up in Adobe.

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