is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
With only seven entries written and posted here last month, things were a bit quieter on Subtraction.com than I typically like. I was just too busy to blog very much, what with my appearance at An Event Apart NYC and my vacation to California late in the month.
But I can make up for it with a treat: the incomparable Veerle Pieters graciously agreed to create original artwork for July’s edition of Illustrate Me, the ongoing project where I invite designers and illustrators to dress up the Subtraction.com archives. You can see Veerle’s artwork right now on the archive page for July; it’s a really fun illustration that combines soap bubbles, cycling and a pretty girl for a satisfyingly summery effect that almost makes you forget about the heat.
Cleaning Up for Company
Veerle was incredibly generous with her efforts; she’s as busy as she is talented, publishing an amazing, crowd-pleasing blog and turning out a steady stream of beautifully realized design projects at Duoh! N.V., the prolific studio she runs with Geert Leyseele in Deinze, Belgium. So I feel very fortunate she could find the time to produce this terrific illustration.
Because of this, I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t resolved the various shortcomings in Illustrate Me’s presentation that I mentioned when I posted Brian Rea’s artwork last month. But, then I came up with something to make up for that, too.
Starting with Veerle this month, I’m going to be conducting a very short, three-question interview with each Illustrate Me artist and running the dialogues here. I’ll mostly be asking about the person’s approach to drawing and illustration in general. The idea is to get a little bit of a peek at what kind of thinking goes into picture-making; Veerle᾿s answers, below, are a good example of how interesting this stuff can be. Enjoy!
Three Questions for Veerle Pieters
Drawing and illustration seem to play an important role in the design work that you do. How did that come about, and do you think of yourself as someone who draws first and then designs, or the reverse — or neither?
[That comes from my] design education and my love for drawing. Back in 1992-1994 when I was designing for print only, I used to do a bit more drawing and illustration work. Every brochure I designed contained at least one drawing. Most were watercolors back then. In a lot of cases a drawing improves the general look, whether it’s a Web site or a brochure. Sometimes it’s just better to use a drawing then a photograph because it simplifies something complicated, for instance when you want to show how a machine works.
In most situations I draw first and then I design. But sometimes it’s reverse or neither, like when I’m working on a Web site and I need a certain icon or when I think the header needs some extra touch such as an illustration background etc.
Do your clients come to you specifically for your innate tendency to solve problems through drawing, because they know you’ll produce a design that is highly illustrative? Or do you find you still have to convince clients that an illustration might be a better way to communicate than a photograph?
A few clients have a pure specific illustration requests and hire us because they know we fit for the job. Unfortunately that ’s really a very small percent. We have a client that sells water purification systems. To show the customer how their system works, we draw schematic illustrations. Some years ago we used only water color technique to create certain ‘realistic’ illustrations of their products. The last couple of years we create everything in Illustrator. This is much more flexible since they can use these illustrations as big visuals on expositions as well.
As far as I can remember we didn’t have to convince a client to use an illustration instead of a picture. In most cases it’s obvious that an illustration works better. If a client is specialized in selling clothes, then I guess no doubt you show our products by photos and illustrations wouldn ’t make sense unless you decide to have icons to show the difference between, skirts, dresses etc.
I guess it totally depends on the subject and in a lot of cases illustration work is more used as an extra decorative element in the design, to give it an extra touch or style. In the case of using icons, their purpose is to add extra guidance for user, so he/she knows where to find what on a Web site or catalogue etc. Depending on the type of job, we brainstorm with the client and we share ideas, we suggest things and finally we come to an agreement. Most of the time the client leaves it up to us to come up with a ‘nice idea.’
How has that transition from watercolor to Adobe Illustrator suited you? Are you doing different kinds of illustrations now that you’re working digitally, and is it integrating with your design work differently?
I’ve always been a big fan of Illustrator and the Mac. Working on the Mac is something I really love doing. I would still use the water color technique if I think this particular style would be needed for the job. Still, I have to take in account that this would take a lot more hours of work.
I use different illustration styles, but I guess there is a certain style that is typical ‘me.’ I love to play with colors a lot and I love using gradients. I prefer the clean simple style, especially when I create icons or illustrations that will be used for the web.
I guess the integration is different in a way that back in the early 90s my Mac couldn’t handle big files and I didn’t have Photoshop either (imagine!). I had my water colors scanned at a pre-press company and then I used a low resolution version in QuarkXPress to integrate into the layout. It was totally different, but it’s pure because of the digital evolution. I used diskettes of 1.3 MB and had 8 MB of RAM on my Quadra 700. Today, it wouldn’t make a real difference.+