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Creating Illustrious Brands: Storytelling through Design

Michael Dula

A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, Paul Wearing is a commercial artist who has applied his distinct illustrative touch to many projects, from large-scale architectural installations to campaigns for brands including Herman Miller, Elsevier, IBM, Bang & Olufsen, Neiman Marcus, Cedars Sinai Medical Center and The Royal Bank of Scotland. Often reflecting a passion for food, fashion, interior design and travel, his illustration agency’s work regularly appears in design annuals, art magazines and mass-circulation publications including The Wall Street Journal, M Magazine, Le Monde and bon appétit. He spoke with BrandingBusiness Chief Creative Officer Michael Dula, about his creative process, the power of color and the role of creativity in branding.


Dula: As an illustrator, an artist, an image-maker, can you describe the look of your style for our listeners?

Wearing: I guess the essence of it is, it has a contemporary look. A lot of the influences that arise in my work come from mid-century type of styling — my interest in things like Charles and Reims furniture. Some of the artists who were working in that period come through my work in one way or another. What I guess it has is familiarity, in one respect, and, hopefully, freshness in another.

Dula: Tell us a little bit about your creative process. Do you create for yourself or do you create for your client's audience?

Wearing: I produce work for myself, whether or not it has an application anywhere or not. What is great is when you work with a client who has a view and wants to harness your work and take it further forward. That way, there's an interaction between the two. They'll bring something towards what you do and you'll add something to what they want to achieve.

Dula: How does your mind think when it comes to reaching your client's audience and drawing them in?

Wearing: I’m looking a lot to what the client talks about at the initial briefing on where their position is and where they're leaning, in terms their product or brand, and look at what's going on in the existing market with their competitors — trying to do something which doesn't repeat things other people do, so they have their own distinct, individual characteristic and they tell the story that is relevant to their company — their history or their characteristic¬ — and try and get across some of the essence of what the company or the product is about.

Dula: Do you spend a lot of time researching your clients, researching the background?

Wearing: As much as possible. I also try and keep abreast of current affairs and things that are happening in retail or fashion or anything like that.

In a previous life, alongside illustration, I used to work as a design consultant — advising retailers on trends, colors, products they should be developing. That involved going around the world, basically looking at what everybody was doing, going to various trade shows to see the newest colors that were coming in, and reading a lot.

That kind of background feeds into what I do now. As well as the artistic and creative side, which may be more powerful to me, there's also an awareness of the commercial aspects and socials trends manifesting themselves across a broader spectrum of areas.

Dula: How does color play out in your work?

Wearing: For me, color is absolutely key. Taking back to one of my first art history teachers, a fantastic, charismatic man who liked to tell you, “Color is the first thing anybody sees.” Essentially, I think he's right. After that, you see form and then line.

One of my earlier trainings was as a print textile designer, and color is so key in that area.

One of the most wonderful things… you can almost tell a story with color. If the colors aren't right in something, it never quite works for some reason. If they're right, things fly. And you'll see how much care people put into that when they apply it to areas of business like branding — the enormous amount of energy and focus on detail in trying to get people to have their individual look and individual color and individual stamp.

Dula: When I look at your illustrations, there is color harmony and balance and color complexity. It does seem fundamental when I look at a Paul Wearing illustration, whether you're using three colors or 100 colors. There's a certain harmony. Does color come naturally? Do you go through a lot of experimentation?

Wearing: I work almost exclusively on the computer now. When I begin a job, into the file that I'm working in, I'll bring in several pieces of work… images and colors that I think are pertinent to that particular job. Then I'll just begin playing. The beauty of working in digital media nowadays is the ability to recolor things. It's just fantastic.

Dula: It's amazing to me the vastness of your work, in terms of the application — whether it's on the side of a building, in an ad, on a website. Is there a difference between working with consumer brands and corporate brands?

Wearing: Sometimes just because of the pace of things with retail brands, things move faster. They're slightly more predetermined.

Sometimes with corporate brands, there's a more organic growth or a development period, probably because a lot of parties need to be involved in the decision-making. Also, there aren’t the pertinent deadlines you might get if you’re launching a product.

Dula: So many stories and ideas pour out of your imagery. Whether they'd be minimalistic, whether they'd be more complex, each one seems to hold a story. When you think about storytelling, how big of factor does it play?

Wearing: I think it's quite a big factor — not necessarily in a straightforward type of narrative like a storybook. A lot of my work will involve layering of imagery, subtle patterns and sometimes patterns which tell a story. They may not be immediately obvious.

For example, I had a great commission for Cedars Sinai Medical Center to develop a book promoting their child acute-sickness ward. In that, we had a child being picked up. And within the child, there was a repeat pattern. You got the sense that it was caring not just for one child but numerous children.

Dula: I've gotten to know you and your work through our client Elsevier [a leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services]. Can you talk about your recent work for them?

Wearing: What a fantastic job, to begin with. It's not that often that a client will come to you and want to base their whole look and brand around a lot of the graphic handwriting that you produce.

One of the things about the job… they liked what your colleague Drew [Letendre] termed “visual wit”… the idea of a tree within a head that signified knowledge. But because it had to do with digital downloads, the tree's roots were then made out of circuit board.

It sounds slightly trite when you say it, but when you illustrate it in the right way, it can be beautiful and it can work so nicely and tell a story in a very succinct way.

Dula: In your experience, what role does creativity play in the world of B2B branding?

Wearing: I think creativity everywhere is important, but especially in branding. To differentiate your company, get your company to tell its unique story. To have somebody come in with a creative spark and add a creative idea of how you can do that, I think, is so important.

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