Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Iconic new work

I feel like a modern-day cave painter.

A California agency whose job is to make sure the state has the electrical power it needs, at the right time and price, asked me to develop icons to help tell the extremely complex story of how it does its job, and how to keep doing its job over the long haul.

For a project, a consultant for Cal ISO (short for Independent System Operator) decided that pictures — not a lot of text on PowerPoint slides — would describe the interrelationships between power sources, transmission, green technology and wise energy use that extends the energy supply.

The icons needed to tell the story at a glance.

This is the short story of their evolution.

The finished icons at left are the result. Though colorful, they're flat with minimal perspective — exactly what the consultant eventually wanted.

Sorta no and really NO!
In most illustration/design projects — in most of mine, anyway — the relationship with a client also includes latent forces usually undetected until the illustrator/designer makes the first parry. Thus, this was my first effort (Cal ISO and I agreed that I would forgo sketches and go straight to digital rendering, accounting for a short turnaround and a high need for clarity in a hurry):

The goal: To reduce the objects to their essence, the most primitive point at which they would still be understood.

The latent force — the consultant — revealed itself and said: Neither of them work but the top one is remotely close. It needs color. (Previous work for Cal ISO required strict adherence to a select green/blue palette, so I anticipated the agency would prefer something closer to monochromatic.) As for the bottom one, absolutely not.

Then the latent force became unavailable for a brief key time, and Cal ISO and I determined to make our best guess about what that force had in mind.

Originally, the illustration called for the icons to be arrayed around the state of California, and around an androgynous, color neutral consumer, whom readers would regard as benefiting from the array of power and transmission and technology. 
This time you've gone too far!
Very cold, still cold, warmer, warmer, got it.
The latent force returned and said: "No, no, no and no. Here are some illustrations we like. Do like these. Oh, and take out a bunch of the icons. And the outline of California. And the person." In short, icons: Symbols. Badges. Simple.

The car (left) went through its own odyssey, as I tried to reduce it to a sum of its parts (the original idea is that lightweight components reduce the energy burden) and then Cal ISO decided that the car itself was the message.

Digging and digging out of the rut of "cute as a button," I couldn't extricate the car out of some bad children's book version of a useless passenger vehicle.

Then the Cal ISO art director sent me reference that might help: My own illustration I created last year for the agency. You can see a detail of it, in pale greens and blues, next to the red car at the bottom, which was the final pick.

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