Abstraction vs Realism: Striking a balance
Right now I find myself thinking a lot about the spectrum of abstraction.
When I first joined Hustle, they used no photography in their brand. This is saw as problematic; for all that we talk about "authenticity" and the meaningfulness of real people and real relationships, we only showed fairly abstract semblances of people. So I started to bring photography into the mix. The thinking is that the image of real people feel more authentic and relatable than a white and blue line drawing.
Now I find myself tackling illustrations as part of a larger brand exploration. I turned to an old favorite, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, for inspiration. This book is, yes, about comics— but it was one of the texts used in my formative design education and happens to explain a lot of wonderful visual storytelling theory that can be applied beyond just the one category of comic books.
In particular I'm thinking about whether abstraction helps, or actually hurts, in an individual's ability to relate to a particular story.
McCloud posits that abstraction allows people to identify with subjects better than realism, using the above illustration as reference. He argues that people identity with what is familiar to them and can better place themselves into a story of situation if they see some semblance of familiarity in the subject. Therefore, a photograph would only be familiar to a very small amount of people, whereas you bring in more and more people as you become more abstract.
So here's where I'm at. I began incorporating photography into the brand, but have found it to be limiting. So I'm backing up and exploring what range of illustration or abstraction to use.
I think this has been a valuable exploration, because I've concluded that the Keith Haring-esque style of ultimate abstraction of the human form is indeed too limiting, however well it meshes with our icon style. But I also think the middle ground isn't quite right for us, although I DO like that it allows us to do some amount of diversity exploration. For now, I think I'm going to go down the photo collage path and see if anything there rings true— of all these, that's what I'm most excited to pursue. It's not quite there yet though. But this is what being a designer is all about!