Illustrate Me for June

Illustrate MeThe June entry for Illustrate Me — the ongoing project where I invite designers and illustrators to create artwork for the archive pages of — is now posted and available for your perusal. This month’s illustration was created by Brian Rea, an extremely talented freelance artist and designer who also happens to work with me at The New York Times.

Brian is the Art Director for the paper’s Op-Ed page, where he adds a visual wallop to our daily menu of opinion articles and editorials by coaching an eclectic array of other prolific illustrators — in effect, Illustrate Me is my minor league attempt to be the art director that Brian actually is. I’m a big fan of Brian’s work, and the illustration he created for June 2006 is a beauty — exactly the kind of work that I was hoping to generate when I started this project.

Right: Black and white and Rea all over. A detail from Brian’s Illustrate Me contribution for June 2006.
Brian Re’s June 2006 Illustrate Me

Status Report for Illustrate Me

Which brings me to a brief recap of Illustrate Me so far: in all honesty, it hasn’t been the sensation that I hoped it would be, at least in terms of traffic, notoriety and comments generated. When I think about why that is, I see two reasons.

First, illustration doesn’t garner the excitement on the Web that it might in other media, or maybe that it might have in another era. As a visual consumers, we᾿re living through an age dominated by the digital camera, in which photographic images are pervasive and ceaseless — today’s torrent of photos is so powerful that even the media gateways for these pictures, in the form of Flickr and its ilk — are as much a marvel as the pictures themselves. For the time being, anyway, our interest in hand-drawn imagery has waned.

The second reason is much less abstract: I’ve done a lousy job of promoting this project. What makes them interesting — their tangential relationship with the archive posts they illustrate — is also what makes them difficult to access. It’s counter-intuitive, I’ve come to realize, to send users to the archives in order to see one of the most vibrant and interesting things I’m doing here. Illustrate Me needs a better showcase. I just haven’t provided a good information architectural solution to that problem and I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out how to do that.

Talk, Talk

Illustrate Me is actually one of the topics that I covered briefly during my talk at An Event Apart NYC last week. I didn’t dwell so much on Illustrate Me’s performance as on why I persevere with this project, and why I don’t let its relatively disappointing reception deter me.

Being the proprietor of allows me the otherwise rare chance to be an author, editor, designer and art director all at once. In fact, it’s my belief that blogs in general are a unique inflection point in the history of design authorship; never before has it been possible for designers to execute our own ideas so thoroughly, from soup to nuts, and to distribute them to a potential audience of millions at virtually no cost.

To me that’s a fantastic opportunity that I want to make the most of. It allows me to engage in something about which I feel very passionately, and to do so on my own terms. And it also gives me the chance, hopefully, to inspire a similar passion in readers like yourself about those subjects. If you like what you see here by Brian or any of the artists that preceded him, drop them a line and let them know.

  1. I just wanted to let you know that I, for one, enjoy the illustration every month. I haven’t really commented on it because I don’t really know where to go with it: it’s not an avenue for criticism like, say, a photoblog.

    That said, it’s definitely something that’s interesting and worthwhile. I don’t know how you can increase the profile of it. I’ve thought about ways to get more illustration on the web myself, but I haven’t really come up with much in the way of actual ideas for it. That said, if I do come up with anything, I’ll drop you a line and let you know.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. The illustrations look great. I think it is a great addition to your site and really gives illustrators a voice they may not be able to use on their own.

  3. Like Yuda, I just wanted to say that the monthly guest illustrations are one of my favorite parts of your website and they add alot (along with the way cool calendar you put together) to those otherwise kinda dull archive pages.

    When I first visited this site I didnt see what the big to do was. It really didnt seem out of the ordinary at all, and there was very little flair. But the more times I visit this site, and the more subtlties I notice, the more I absolutely love this site.

    The grayscale color scheme with the orange accents.
    The clean orderly layout of each and every page.
    The way older posts display less of what is written on the frontpage.
    The way you organize categories.
    And Mister President and the guest illustrations at the top of some pages make them look more important while still keeping visually consistent with the rest of the site.

    Sorry if that came out a little confusing, but I just wanted to give you my opinion on what makes your site my favorite on the web. Thanks so much for what you do, and keep on keeping on.

  4. I suppose archive pages are the elephant’s graveyards of the web, where old posts go to die. They’re essential of course, but not really a “Feature”. This may be why you haven’t seen the sort of passionate response worthy of your efforts.

    The ideal would be to have an illustrator on call to spice up your blog posts themselves, but I guess that’s easier on a more production-heavy site like A List Apart where articles take longer to surface.

    Would a hybrid approach work? Blog away all you like and then retroactively soup your posts up here and there. You’re already asking the illustrators to gear their work to your post titles, so this could translate well.

    Another contributing factor in your “publicity failure” might be attributed to the fact that people generally link to blog posts rather than archive pages. They’re just not as prominent.

    Perhaps what’s needed to get people’s attention is a pervasive approach. Illustration in the print world is organic and everywhere, not relegated to a little box in a corner somewhere. People need to be drawn in from every conceivable angle. Get this stuff on the front page, category archives, hell you could even get people to illustrate your comments! Your grid is flexible enough that it shouldn’t be a limiting factor, you need to embrace it. (insert illustration of a pixie hugging a grid.)

    I hope you continue your experiments, the web needs more stuff like this. You’ve got the connections and talent, now make it sing.

  5. Perhaps you could use the illustration, or a portion of it, on the main page as a divider between months. Any prominence on the index would help I would imagine.

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