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Building Bulb

How we do illustration at Bulb

Illustration of a couple wondering which washing machine to buy. They look confused. They could find some help in our energy guides, we bet.

Our illustration style is one of the things our members comment on the most. Illustrations are a great way to communicate complicated ideas and get members more engaged with their energy. In this post, Fiona looks at the design principles that help to keep our illustrations Bulby.

Hey, I’m Fiona, one of the illustrators here at Bulb. Since joining the team quite recently, I’ve worked on our energy guides. The aim of these guides is to give our members a better understanding of their energy, so it’s been a great way to jump right in.

At Bulb we have three design principles that underscore everything we do, from product design to content and illustrations. These are Simple, Robust and Personal. I’m going to tell you about how I’ve applied these principles to create the illustrations for our energy guides. You might be surprised at how many steps we take to get to the final image.

Every illustration starts with a sketch

Firstly, I draft and share a number of quick pencil sketches where I try to clearly articulate the concept we want to communicate. There is often a bit of back and forth between other team members which might result in another sketch or two to accommodate creative feedback.

Here’s a range of sketches for the concept 'some carbon emissions are unavoidable.'

Series of sketches to illustrate unavoidable carbon emissions

Simple illustrations add clarity and character

Illustration of a piece of broccoli passing wind and looking guilty

With our 'Simple' principle in mind, it’s important to make illustrations easily recognisable. After that, we can add emotion.

Humour is a great way to bring an idea to life. We're all familiar with the idea of carbon emissions from cows, so creating a farting broccoli captured the message we were trying to communicate in a lighthearted way.

It’s engaging enough that it can give you a better understanding of the subject area. And if it makes you smile while thinking about carbon emissions... that’s a win!

Robust illustrations help to explain ideas

I also illustrated our guide about choosing an energy tariff. Our illustrations here needed to work overtime to explain concepts that aren’t visual or tangible. There were a lot of ideas at play: energy, money, payment and variable tariffs.

Lots of sketches thinking about variable tariffs
Illustration of a padlocked energy meter with dangling spider

You can see we played with a lot of sketches here to describe 'fixed' and 'variable' tariffs. As these illustrations needed to appear separately in the guide, we decided that the meter/padlocks were the most robust option. That's because they didn’t rely on one another to communicate the concept at hand.

The spider was a way to illustrate a length of time passing on a fixed term deal. On a personal note, I hate the little guys so to have a smiley one was a small bit of therapy for me.

Personal illustrations put things in perspective

This means bringing concepts to life, lifting them off the page and making them more tangible for our members. A great tool for this is anthropomorphism: by attributing human emotions, characteristics and behaviours to inanimate objects you can give anything a little personality.

Perhaps it's linked to the psychological phenomenon pareidolia where you are prone to seeing faces in animate objects. If you’ve ever had your flat white give you the side eye, you're probably prone to this as well.

illustration of two happy energy bills comparing themselves

Here’s an illustration of two energy statements, from the same guide. We’ve put the 'Personal' principle into practice here by turning them into characters. It’s not overly complicated, but it reinforces the fact that you're about to read a guide that compares two types of tariffs.

One rule we have for this is that an anthropomorphised thing never exists in the same image as a person. I did try and break this rule once for our guide to understanding your energy bill... but the image wasn’t used for various reasons.

An illustrated bulb member dancing romantically with her energy bill on a tablet computer.

Our illustrations keep us Bulby

So, there we have it. A whistle-stop tour of illustrating energy guides at Bulb. As well as helping us stand out in a serious marketplace, our illustrations benefit our members by offering a better experience and a better understanding of how their energy works. And it means our team of illustrators can spend time drawing the things that really matter. Like farting broccoli. Brilliant.

Read more about illustration at Bulb on the blog, in the Bulb community, or follow our social channels to see more of Fiona's work out in the wild.