Keeping the purpose of an illustration in mind; that of clearly communicating information, can be difficult when today’s computer artist has such an array of powerful, seductive tools at their disposal.By the time I’d completed the piece (we’re talkin’ days here…I was using a Mac IIci and Photoshop 2 with no layers) I’d managed to get something out of my system.
I face a similar challenge today with the creation of information graphics. Keeping the purpose of an illustration in mind; that of clearly communicating information, can be difficult when today’s computer artist has such an array of powerful, seductive tools at their disposal. 3D software is particularly difficult to resist. I originally dabbled in 3d as a visualization tool. It obviated the need for things like perspective lines, and an ideal angle of the subject could be chosen with the simple rotation of a model. I still prefer to create simple 3d geometry that I can take to completion in Photoshop, but as my skills improve it can be tempting to let the software render those hyper-realistic shadows or dazzling, liquid-reflections. The problem is that good information art isn’t always about photo-reality. More often than not, that shadow that a component is casting within a circuit board is actually hindering the clarity of the piece. That stunning reflection on the hood of the car is distracting the viewer from the purpose of the art. So do you resort to a simple line-drawing to get your message across? Sometimes that is all that is needed, especially considering the budget or the delivery medium. Sometimes a product or technology requires photorealism for contextual purposes or marketing appeal. But ultimately you have to know your tools well enough to recognize when it’s inappropriate to use them. And good old-fashioned creative judgment and the ability to know what to put in and what to leave out will ultimately allow you to create a meaningful yet visually appealing technical illustration.