• 5 min read

Should You Use Photos or Illustrations For Your Employee Photos?

  • Author
  • Ian Bower
  • Published
  • Jan 15, 2021
5 min read

Should You Use Photos or Illustrations For Your Employee Photos?

If you’re considering showcasing portraits of your employees across your business’ website, social media, marketing materials, and more, then you’re not alone. More and more businesses are turning to this trend as a way of not just putting faces to names, but also giving their company a more personalized approach too.

In the first part of this blog post series, we discussed the various ways you can use illustrated images of your employees, as well as how you can quickly and easily get a designer to whip them up for you. If you missed our helpful post, be sure to check it out here.

By now, however, you might be wondering why you should use illustrated employee portraits instead of simple photographs and which one is best for your business?

In the second part of this series, we’ll be covering all of this and more. Keep reading to find out the benefits of both practices, as well as how your business can get even more creative and think outside of the box with a hybrid approach.


Employee Photos

It probably comes as no surprise that the most common medium for employee portraits is the humble photograph. Whether in color or black and white, businesses have been utilizing photographs of their employees for decades now.

Employee photos offer many benefits to businesses, including the fact that they’re:

  • Quick to capture
  • Easy to obtain
  • Realistic to look at
  • Versatile in terms of size, style, backdrop, and more

So, why might some business owners prefer a simple employee portrait photo to those that are illustrated?

When compared to illustrated portraits, photos usually have a straightforward, professional, and businesslike vibe. They’re also perfect for achieving the cohesive look and feel a large corporation desires, while keeping things ‘strictly business’.

Think of businesses such as Microsoft and NASA, or even academic institutions such as Harvard University or Oxford University. While these companies might show their ‘lighter’ side from time to time (for example, on social media), it’s not something they’re trying to achieve when representing the professional faces behind their company.

Source: https://gsas.harvard.edu/about/staff

Employee Illustrations

Employee illustrations, on the other hand, are perfect for showcasing a business’s lighter side. There are several benefits they offer that photographs may lack, including that they are:

  • Not the norm, therefore setting you apart from your competitors. Think outside of the box with your employee portraits and turn them into eye-catching illustrated versions instead. In a widely competitive world, every point of difference counts, so why not make this one of them?
  • Considered to be edgy and unique, which is particularly helpful if you wish to achieve this look with your branding. The traditional corporate headshot can be interpreted as “business as usual”, and even though some may experiment with colorful and quirky profile photos, it’s an illustrated portrait that takes this engagement to a whole new level.
  • An answer to common dilemmas such as employees being camera shy or wanting to maintain their identity and privacy. Not everyone loves having their photo taken, nor are they over-the-moon about it being displayed on a website for all to see. An illustration of the employee gives it a degree of separation, however, as it’s a representation of them.
  • Easy to obtain branding assets, as they’re created digitally and don’t require everyone to pose in the same place, at the same time. A graphic designer can create the employee illustration based on a photo you email through, with the entire process taking place online. And as for that team group photo? It’s a lot easier for a graphic designer to simply edit their original design to include an extra person or two.
  • Conveniently open to change, as a graphic designer can easily produce variables containing different expressions, outfits, poses, and more. For example, one employee illustration might feature just a close-up of their face, while another could feature their full body and showcase them performing their role (i.e. talking on the phone, typing on a computer, or performing a presentation).

Some great examples of businesses utilizing employee illustrations in their branding, as opposed to photographs, include Yarno and Wired Magazine.

Yarno, a remote learning platform, utilizes illustrated employee portraits on their Team page and blog. Even when not featuring employees, but rather showcasing an image for their social media or blog, the illustration style remains the same, adding cohesivity to their branding.

The illustrated style also ties in nicely with their brand identity, including their light-hearted and comical tone of voice. Additionally, the company is a cutting-edge startup in the digital educational sphere, meaning that they’re not afraid to challenge traditional methods of thinking.

Source: https://www.yarno.com.au/about-us/our-team

Likewise, Wired Magazine commissioned a graphic designer to illustrate over 150 of their staff for their print and digital platforms. The goal was to craft sharp, unique geometric portraits that captured their staff in a creative lens. Considering the magazine focuses on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy, and politics, the style also seems fitting for their modern brand.

Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/67221795/WIRED-Magazine-Staff-portraits

 Employee Photos Vs. Illustrations: Which One is Right for You?

To determine if your own business would benefit more from employee photographs or illustrations, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • How would you describe your brand identity? Light-hearted, trendy, and modern; or traditional, professional, and authoritative?
  • In which methods do your competitors represent portraits of their employees?
  • How can you represent your own employees in a way that is more eye-catching, fun, and memorable?
  • How many employees would you need to feature? 
  • How often would you require additional employee portraits?
  • Do you want your employee portraits to be versatile, so you can quickly and easily mix them up for different occasions or content?
  • Do your employees feel more comfortable and excited about having themselves represented through illustrations, rather than photographs?

We also recommend taking a look at how other companies are showcasing portraits of their employees, both within and outside of your industry.

Most importantly, keep references of what you like and don’t like, being sure to take notes of anything that inspires potential ideas for your own employee portraits along the way.


How Can You Get Creative? Combining Both Styles for Something Unique

Perhaps you just can’t choose between the two styles, or you really want something that’s so unique, it’s rarely seen. When it comes to employee portraits, don’t think that you’re simply limited to either photographs or illustrations and nothing else.

You can also take a hybrid approach to both of these styles, opting for a photographic portrait that incorporates illustrations, or an illustration that incorporates photographic elements (depending on the way you want to look at it – one could argue they’re the same thing!).

If this all sounds a little confusing, don’t fret. We’re going to show you the perfect examples of each below to further inspire your creativity.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/119345458846525812/]
Source: https://www.boredpanda.com/cartoon-girl-turned-real-life-illustrator-creates-whimsical-self-portraits/
Source: https://www.brwnpaperbag.com/2018/05/09/ilias-walchshofer-vector-doodles/
Source: https://ello.co/ello/post/ngfwhscnno3bakfqged8ja

There are many benefits to taking the hybrid approach, including:
  • Blending the familiar (photography) with the unique (illustrations), creating a look that is still outside of the box, without being jarring. 
  • Being exciting and eye-catching, as you can incorporate visual elements that would otherwise be too difficult to produce in a photograph, such as the rainbow slime or comic book style illustrations featured in the examples above.
  • Producing never-seen-before styles, as if you can think of it, you can draw it. Photography, on the other hand, has a greater sense of realism and some concepts will be difficult, or impossible, to capture through a lens.


The Next Steps

The Daily Design Business or Enterprise Plan will allow for you to create the illustrated employee photos of your dreams. Click HERE to get started!

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  • Ian Bower
  • Ian is the owner of Graphic Rhythm as well as other businesses that revolve around design, copywriting and Amazon marketplace selling. He's an expert in communicating persuasively and loves helping business owners and digital agencies breathe life into their projects and ideas.

    He values generosity and attention to detail and strives to make sure these values are apparent in the services he provides and the businesses he owns.

    When Ian isn't working, you can find him outside hiking, camping and spending time with his wife and children

  • Ian is the owner of Graphic Rhythm as well as other businesses that revolve around design, copywriting and Amazon marketplace selling. He's an expert in communicating persuasively and loves helping business owners and digital agencies breathe life into their projects and ideas.

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