What is the value of creative counsel, of our creative process? What is the value of our research, of interviewing stakeholders, consulting experts and non-experts who bring new perspectives to the table?
Occasionally, when a client comes to us with a specific request, it’s tough to explain why we need to dedicate resources to “discovery”. They want a website and we have designers who do that kind of thing – what more is there to discover?
To showcase the value of the research and understanding phase of a project, we decided to do a little experiment. We provided members of our team with a series of well-known (and not so well-known) animals to draw… without any reference and without seeing any other drawings. At least two of these team members are experienced illustrators, who have drawn animals before.
We selected the animals based on a list at favoriteanimal.com, choosing randomly to ensure we weren’t biased in our choices. Here’s what happened:
E: I think I nailed it. Well, a cartoony version of a llama. All I had in mind was The Emperor’s New Groove.
B: Very bad. It looks like an angry horse. My mental reference was the llamas from the TinTin book “La Temple du Soleil” which I couldn’t read very well due to it being in French, and evidently couldn’t look at very well either.
R: Not sure. I know they have a long neck and ears.
E: If you shaved the llama’s legs, I’d be pretty close.
B: Somehow they’re fluffier and meaner. I was very far off.
R: My llama looks goofy and confused. Kind of close.
E: I know what a dolphin looks like, and it’s not this.
B: Not bad! Based on a lot of documentary watching and the obsession my childhood friends had with dolphin books.
R: Pretty close.
E: I got… the right number of fins I guess.
B: The nose is very large, but the rest is ok.
R: I think I was very close.
E: Good. It’s like a cat whose sleeves are too long plus tufty ears.
B: Mediocre. It looks like a housecat.
R: Not sure. I was thinking of thundercats when I drew it.
E: I put stripes instead of spots, and completely forgot that tail. But my description holds up. What a cool creature.
B: How did I ever forget?
R: Not close enough. At least I got the ears right.
E: I know they’re real tall and have very geometric colouring. I remember drawing one once and loving how all the spots fit together.
B: A daring pose but it’s pretty iconic. The legs should be a lot more spindly.
E: Ok, I think. Inspired by a life of watching BBC nature documentaries and an admiration for David Attenborough.
E: Pretty sure Beccy cheated on this one. I did ok, except I forgot the tufty little mane.
B: It’s an overweight giraffe.
E: So-so. Looks like a stubby alien giraffe.
E: They have those eyes that go in different directions, right? And they blend into their surroundings.
B: Pretty good, thanks to my days drawing Drogon the Majestic.
R: I drew an ancient chameleon. I was thinking of Drogon.
E: They do have those eyes, but otherwise very off.
B: They’re less gangly but this is close.
R: Kind of close. My chameleon needs more refinement.
E: I think this is more generic bird than parrot. I can’t recall distinct characteristics beyond “colourful” and all I have is a pencil.
B: I drew a bird a couple of days ago so my bird anatomy knowledge is temporarily heightened I guess.
R: Looks like a model of a parrot. Could be close.
E: I got stripey wings and the fact that it’s a bird.
B: Nailed it, drew a scruffy parrot.
R: My parrot looks like the hottest model parrot in the animal kingdom.
E: I know I could kill this if I had a couple more chances. I’m pretty sure I know what a horse should look like.
B: I used to ride horses and draw horses and pretend to be a horse so this is shameful.
L: Poorly. The head, legs, tail and body were so hard! I imagined a statue of Napoleon on a horse and my friend Shonagh’s mother’s farm.
E: Yep, that’s what they look like.
B: I think my memories of drawing the difficult parts of the horse got in the way of me drawing the easy bits. Not as bad as I thought, but I should have drawn a shetland pony.
L: Honestly if my horse was in the horse family it would be the asshole of the bunch.
E: It’s not great, but if you had to guess you’d say tiger, right?
B: Thanks, Datsun. This is still pretty bad though.
E: Ok? The face is definitely off.
B: It’s hard to place exactly where I went wrong, but it definitely did go wrong. THANKS, DATSUN.
E: Face is all wrong!
E: So I’m not good at sea creatures. Most of the salmon I see is smoked, on top of a bagel.
B: I think this is accurate?
E: Looks upside down :/
B: It’s not!
E: Fins in the wrong place – all round terrible.
E: My only memory of a roadrunner is from the cartoon. Went for sort of an ostrich with more hair.
B: It’s based on a foggily remembered Looney Tunes show and the character was a blur anyway. Maybe it’s close? I don’t remember ever seeing a real photo of one.
E: This is a bird. Inspired by definitely not Looney Tunes.
E: Wow, they are much smaller than I thought. Very incorrect.
B: The Disney roadrunner is right between the real bird and my mistake.
E: Haha! Pretty bad.
E: I know the tail is wrong for sure, but no going back now.
B: I love a good pint of prawns.
L: I feel like I’m drunk. I don’t know anything anymore. This is based on full on freaky looking shrimp I’ve seen in fancy groceries and fish markets.
E: I am very uncomfortable right now. It’s like an insect.
B: I forgot that the eye looks like it’s about to fall out, and I think I drew a dead shrimp.
L: Pretty close, though the head has more bits. It looks like it has giant whips coming out of its head.
E: Like a mouse, pointy nose, can’t see for shit.
B: My dad found a mole in our backyard 15 years ago and I read Beatrix Potter books, so it’s not too far off hopefully.
L: Not well. Everything about this feels wrong. But I tried my best. I went snow-shoeing once in Gatineau Park. The guide talked about a complex network of tunnels between the snow and earth. There the moles reign supreme – free of most prey during these special winter months. Or so I think I was told.
E: Honestly, not too bad. But those hands!
B: Bigger hands, smaller eyes somehow?
L: Oh no. What are theese? My scale’s all off. Do moles even have eyes?
E: I know they have hairy legs, cause I saw once at a museum once.
B: 50% fluff, 50% terror. They’re quite memorable and rarely cartooned, so I think this is close.
L: Oh my god a tarantula. They have so many eyes and legs and hairs. I think this is my best effort. Inspired by Jeff Daniels, an aerosol can, a lighter and arachnaphobia.
E: Does it have ten legs? Either way, mine is too pointy.
B: More… bulbous.
L: I knew there were two little body bits. Ugh, it’s so disgusting, just looking at it makes me sick.
E: Well. Not my greatest attempt. I think it’s like an anteater? But I don’t know what those look like either.
B: Who the fuck knows.
E: I’m pretty confident about this one thanks to Planet Earth.
E: Doesn’t look like Arthur at all.
B: Horizontal kangaroo, simple.
E: Pretty good!
E: I can’t think what this is, so I drew a zebra-emu.
B: What if I’m close?
L: I am living in a nightmare. I channelled all my memories of being lost as a child to develop this form. I did this because I have no idea what a Zebu is or any idea as to what it looks like.
E: Yeah, that’s a cow. With a fancy name.
B: I’m not. It’s a humpbacked cow.
L: I knew it was some kind of creature! I should have known it had a humpback. And it’s darker up there, it’s like he’s a coal miner. I knew it had that tail!
Knowing how to draw is one thing. Knowing what to draw requires a deeper level of understanding.
When you don’t take the time to develop a frame of reference specific to a project, you end up falling back on your own experiences and assumptions. You piece together details from other work you’ve done, regardless of how relevant they are to the current project.