A rooster stood upon the screen of an upturned smartphone crows in the dawn light.
Morning Notifications (2021)

Understanding Editorial Illustration in the Digital World

In today’s digital-first world, illustrated images continue to accompany written editorial. Having emerged to furnish the printed articles of European and American publishing, editorial illustration took a conceptual turn in 60’s. This made them better able to communicate complex themes. Not to be mistaken for conceptual art, whose execution is often a perfunctory affair, conceptual illustration crafts images that move the mind of the onlooker. These images allude to a discoverable inner meaning, often setting visual problems and using semiotic cues. In the service of editorial, this becomes a means to better engage the reader.

With digital having practically subsumed printed publishing, editorial illustrations still offers scope for non-passive reader deliberation. What conceptual images were once presented amid columns of printed type are now seen on websites offering editorial content. These include online publications, indie mags, blogs, and online documentation. Insofar as their current role, this remains unchanged. Editorial illustrations are not page decoration, they expound the article topics so they can be better grasped by the viewer.

The Changing Landscape of Publishing

What has changed is the stability once offered by the printed page, to which illustrated images were made to fit specific sizes. Today’s online editorial is commonly delivered via website CMS. Unlike the images of the past, illustrators are obliged to make adaptable artwork that can scale, and be cropped to suit screens of varying types and sizes. In the torrent of unbound content, anything that might increase dwell time is welcome. With evermore people accessing the web by way of broadband, images with subtle animated movement have also become commonplace.

Moving forward it seems likely that editorial illustration will not only be hitched to online publishing, which is in turn bound to the technological timeline of the internet. Much of today’s editorial content is being publicised through social media. Consequently, the pairing of a headline with the illustrated image are often the prospective readers’ point of first contact. In this context, the way an image can pique the interest of a viewer is not unlike an eye-catching cover on a newsstand.

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