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By Gordon H. Wood
Both technical and marketing literature rely on illustration to drive a point home, whether it’s instructing a technician how to replace a component in a machine or educating a potential customer on the merits of a product.
Consider the person shopping online for a product. Would they buy a piece of jewellery or a car sight-unseen? Whether or not we’re conscious of it, images are what draw us to a product first. We are, after all, a society that craves instant gratification. Good illustrations are essential to attracting buyers and keeping those who use and maintain products properly informed.
So, what options are available for illustrations? Let’s start with technical illustration. Even within the last decade, we still relied to a large degree on artists to do “pen and ink” line illustrations from photographs or personal observation. Today, those same artists have either totally embraced the digital world or have retired from doing technical illustration altogether.
Why? If a client company designs its products using CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, the drawing elements already exist. An illustrator can import the “three D” CAD files, rotate them, “explode” them to show how the product is assembled, render (colour & shade) and otherwise embellish them to suit a specific purpose – at a lower cost and on a shorter timeline than for hand-drawn versions.
Thanks to Adobe® Acrobat®’s ubiquitous PDF (Portable Document Format) files, even non-artists can extract part or all of a CAD illustration exported in PDF for use in technical documents. This writer has personally zoomed in on larger exploded CAD drawings to create illustrations that highlight a particular part of an assembly, using Acrobat®’s crop tool. It’s also possible to annotate a drawing to provide reference to a particular part mentioned in the text of the document, this time using Acrobat®’s callout tool. This approach creates huge savings.
If your company doesn’t use CAD, however, don’t even think about assigning illustration tasks to just any employee. You can’t afford the loss of credence from amateur-looking literature. Subcontract to a CAD designer/artist or, alternately, a commercial photographer. Both have gone through a steep learning curve and job time to learn their craft – something an inexperienced employee cannot start to compete with.
Is your interest more in the marketing realm? Perhaps you’re the company’s webmaster or are responsible for producing e-zines and brochures. A technical illustrator can still come to the rescue by taking CAD files and creating colourful cutaways to show how your product works, or why it’s built better. And, to embellish the piece, why not also consider stock photography or clip art?
In the digital age, customers expect accurate, rapid delivery of information, and a professional look in the company’s literature and web presentation. Make sure your illustrations support that good impression.
Gordon Wood is an engineer, writer and stock photographer. His main activity is technical writing, which he conducts through his company, Task Partner (http://taskpartner.ca). He has served in various industries, including microelectronics, anti-submarine warfare equipment development, heavy equipment manufacturing, medical imaging systems, digital projection systems and contract electronic manufacturing. Gordon’s photographic work can also be viewed at http://realworldphoto.com