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Drawing on illustration to amplify brand design

The craft of illustration is making a comeback in advertising communications, giving brands a unique distinctive asset in creating bespoke brand assets. Grid Worldwide recently won a Craft Gold at The Loerie Awards for client MTN's new illustration brand identity with the team from Fresh Helga.

Sarita Immelman leads the team at Fresh Helga who have recently worked with Grid on some of their award-winning campaigns where illustration was the hero in the creative mix.

“We work with Grid to create a custom illustration style for a brand as part of a visual brand language. We supply the illustration section of the CI Guide and that forms an increasingly bigger part of the guide than it traditionally used to,” explains Immelman

A key client they are working on with Grid, is MTN, which needed an illustration style that illustrators in different countries across Africa and the Middle-East could easily adopt and utilise for their own markets. “The MTN illustration style is colourful, contemporary and culturally inspired. The MTN oval forms the basis of all the shapes. It has been designed to capture the traits of the brand personality by being bold, optimistic, exciting and fun. The world is a bright one, bathed in light, with hard shadows, as if they're facing the sun.

“Our core business is creating specific illustration styles for big corporates like MTN. They need an alternative to a stock image - that is where we come in. With MTN, we needed to create a comprehensive kit to send out to all the other markets, so they could use the same style.”

This MTN illustration style sits in a 2D vector world, but Immelman says her strength is that she is proficient in various illustration styles.

“I started out as a designer and art director in advertising and I understood that one style wouldn’t cut it. I’m versatile enough to come up with something specific for a client, creating a version of any illustration style that specifically communicates their brand’s characteristics.

“If I do have to pick a medium, it would be the 2D vector space. I do like digital art. Craft is an interesting discipline. It gets side-lined a lot in our industry and it is such a small category at the Loeries. “I prefer to approach the crafting aspect in a more conceptual way - we have a duty to make it beautiful, as opposed to just adding to the visual clutter out there. People sometimes see craft as secondary and just ‘window dressing’ to the central concept of a campaign, but we like to pull the concept into the crafting so that the one supports the other.”


There is definitely a trend back towards illustration, agrees Immelman, and it is a growing trend. The latest trends in illustration are around 3D and 2D vector, as well as hand-made craft.

Says Immelman: “Particularly because we are sitting in front of our computers all day, I’ve seen brands and illustrators getting back to paper and getting paint on their hands. Specifically, I think photography took over from illustration decades ago, and then illustration died out in the industry a little bit. But now, because everyone has a camera on their phone, photography is not so special anymore and the gap has opened up again for us to bring illustration back, to make it special, and to create a unique design to grab the attention of the consumer.

“It’s very much an emotive response. People want things that are crafted… Advertising communications has become a fast turnaround business, unconsidered in some instances, even ugly. Illustration brings a bit of humanity back into advertising – it is crafted by a person, it doesn’t matter what tool was used to do it. Illustration makes it a crafted piece of work again, not something thrown together.

“Most creatives in advertising love art and wanted to be an artist at some point of their lives.”

This is illustrated in the art projects that Immelman’s team have created for Grid brand clients, such as Marble restaurant and Saint restaurant, a new upmarket Italian-concept restaurant in Sandton, Gauteng. For Saint they created an eye-catching Renaissance-style tapestry.

At Marble in Rosebank, Johannesburg, they created an art installation behind the bar, ‘Meat made luxury’, which won a global D&AD Award in the Illustration for Design category with Grid earlier this year; as well as at Cannes and Loeries. “It leans more towards art, in the way that it communicates an emotion rather than a specific brand message. I think that bridges the gap between communications in advertising and what you can do for a brand that is more emotional and open to individual interpretation.”


Apart from the award winning work they have done recently for Grid, Fresh Helga also won at New York’s One Show for Goodbye Malaria, a TBWA campaign to eradicate Malaria in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Mozambique. Immelman created custom illustrations of the actual Malaria pathogen under a microscope, to resemble the traditional Capulana fabric worn in Mozambique. They then manufactured clothing from this fabric.

The big idea is that as the disease gets eradicated through spraying houses, the fabric gets reprinted every year with less pathogens in the design, as a live statistic to show how it disappears. This campaign also won at Cannes and Loeries last year.

At Loeries this year, Immelman’s team won two Loeries for a BitterSuite campaign for Goedgedaght, whereby plywood hoarding erected around buildings being renovated was repurposed as flat pack furniture for underprivileged schools where the children have no desks to work at.

Also winning at Loeries this year was the limited edition Nederburg bottle wraps Immelman created for TBWA.

Immelman reiterates that beauty is meaningful. “Beauty is not just in ‘the eye of the beholder’, there is universal beauty. That is the space I want to live in and the space I want to work in. That is why I love craft.

“Usually that kind of thing isn’t so important to business people, but it should be. People understand it, even if they can’t articulate it, but we’re all drawn to beautiful things. Brands understand that they need it. It should be more of the fabric of how we speak and create.”

It’s almost inevitable that culture influences what is happening in illustration, says Immelman. “You can’t illustrate without taking from your surroundings. You are drawing people in the real world and using things people will understand. For example, with MTN, we create in a style that is easy to customise for a different market in a different country or region in Africa or the Middle East. That is something you can’t get away from. Culture seeps into it almost without you knowing.”

Grid Worldwide's press office

Grid Worldwide
We create, refresh and invigorate brands. We believe that original, conceptual and inspiring ideas, which are well executed and relevant, will always create value. What the world needs are brands that really mean something.