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© 2010 Ugur Akinci
Thanks to a number of responses to an earlier post about Technical Illustration, I had the opportunity to think more about the topic.
I now realize that I have not clarified the various niches that exist within the catch-all category of graphic arts that we call “technical illustration.” Here I’d like to point out to a few of them.
The first distinction I’d like to make is that of “technical illustration” (TI) versus “information design” (ID).
The traditional TI is a passive format. Its main purpose is to support and illustrate the accompanying text.
The technical illustrator is not trying to make a statement through her art but help the text by making it more accessible, intelligible, and understandable.
Here is a good TI site: http://TechnicalIllustrators.org
ID, on the other hand, does make a statement. Actually, that’s the whole point to ID. An ID product that does not make a statement is like a public speaker who does not say a single word. It’s a contradiction in terms.
Here is a fantastic ID site that I visit daily: http://flowingdata.com
A technical illustrator does not need to understand the data at hand or how the system or hardware in question works. DEPICTION is the main goal in TI. IDENTIFYING THE PARTS and how they fit together to make the whole work, is the principal goal in creating a TI.
An information designer, on the other hand, takes in the raw data, regroups it in a visual way, shifts and moves it around, and coaxes a generalization or statement out of it that did not exist before, or at least was not that readily apparent. There is a DEBUNKING process going on here, just like in any “data mining” operation.
A good ID product creates that classic “a-ha!” moment of illumination and recognition. It’s a revelation in a way that TI is not. In TI the a-ha moment is delivered through the accompanying text.
One is passive (TI); the other is active (ID).
And somewhere in between is the “editorial illustration” (EI). This is an interesting format that speaks with its mouth closed. We hear a statement is being made but the voice is not clear; it’s muted and the message is semi-clear. The CREATIVE and ARTISTIC LICENSE taken by the artist prevents us from hearing the message in an obvious pattern, as is the case with ID. Instead we have to work on it and come up with our own INTERPRETATION of what the message means.
A good example of this form is represented by Harry Campbell: http://www.drawger.com/hwc/
I believe the first two types of illustration fall well within he scope of Technical Communication whereas the EI rather belongs to the domain of creative fine arts. But all these three forms of illustration overlap and create enough in-between forms to welcome technical illustrators from all kinds of backgrounds.
Technical illustration in general is a field rich with possibilities, especially in this day and age of globalization where more technical project managers than before are relying on visual products to hold down the cost of text translation, on the one hand, and appeal easily to a cross-cultural audience, on the other.
What do you think about this post? Does it explain the differences between these different types of illustrations adequately? What’s your take on this topic? Please feel free to share. Thank you.