sketch of castle on an ipad with hand drawing

Nonprofit Illustrations: Understanding the Design Process

Receiving a new illustration project request is exciting! We might immediately begin dreaming up imagery and fantasizing about the endless possibilities of what we can create. It may also be a bit intimidating—creating work we are proud of that WOWs our team or client and checks off all needs can be challenging. 

Making sure that our visions align is crucial, and success depends heavily on communication: asking the right questions from the start and helping whoever the request is coming from to articulate their needs when they might lack the creative language to do so feasibly. Below are four important steps, including considerations and questions, we ask to set ourselves up for success.


1. Understand the target audience

  • Each nonprofit has their own (usually very specific) mission statement. Understanding what drives the audience will help us to make important and informed decisions about the artwork we create
  • Illustrations give full control over the exact nature of the image content. We make sure that we identify the must-haves vs. the nice to haves. (This will ensure that we don’t waste time on an idea that misses a key element or feels off-target).
  • Do the research! We ensure we know the target audience demographic and aim to create something that will resonate. This means making it relevant and culturally appropriate. 


2. Understand the client’s vision

  • We ask the team to identify the most important message the illustration must convey and work to understand who needs to receive this message.
  • We’ll provide a list of adjectives and ask the client to select five and elaborate on the list to the best of their ability.
  • Images often speak louder than words. We ask for visual examples of artwork/photos or other illustrations to help align on the vision for the project.
  • Choose colors with intention. Color should be selected to align with the client’s branding and support the mood and tone of the illustration. Each color conveys something different.


3. Send a preliminary sketch for approval—before creating the actual illustration

  • Sketches are a wonderful way to communicate composition, subject
    matter, layout, and color palette. Sending a few quick sketches in black and white with a color palette is a great way to ensure we are aligned on the direction of the project.
  • It is also helpful to add a paragraph of text with the sketches, including any additional thoughts for the direction of the piece that might not be distinguishable from the sketch. We know that others don’t have our imagination and might not be able to envision the piece even after seeing the sketch. This is why a descriptive paragraph can be helpful.
  • Before we proceed to the final illustration, any and all major changes must be addressed in the sketch phase. This will save time and frustration and help to hold the client accountable for what is agreed on.

4. Keep an open mind when receiving feedback 

  • We must remember that the client is the brand expert. The feedback we receive will guide us toward the next steps to improve the illustrations. Knowing why the client is requesting any changes is important in helping to better understand the goals.
  • It is often ok to also push back and challenge feedback. Asking questions and staying curious is the best way to do this. We want to ensure that the client’s requests and feedback are aligned with the goal stated at the beginning of the project. We’ll help guide the client through our process, so they understand the decisions we made while illustrating and why. 




When it comes to illustration projects, we always want to ensure we help our clients reach their goals. Following these key steps helps keep us all aligned to create an outstanding final result. To learn more about our design work, click here.