It can be difficult to find the right illustration style for a business because the typical corporate style is more tailored and realistic than playful. Designing for a company that favors something innovative and unique presents the challenge of balancing realistic and traditional elements with ones that are more unexpected. My personal aesthetic is colorful, graphic and, as I mentioned above, playful. When I started working at a Industry Dive, I realized this doesn’t always apply to business-oriented journalism. But, with some work, I thought there might be a way to combine the two styles so the illustrations were modern but also appealed to Industry Dive’s audience.

What is the difference?

I first needed to figure out the difference between the styles.


  • Realistic
  • Tailored
  • Proportionate human figures
  • Illustrations include light, shadows, perspective and depth
  • Subject matter includes what the figures are wearing and what setting they’re in

I consider the illustration below to be “corporate”. I first sketched it by hand and then pulled it into Photoshop to add color. A particular technique called cross hatching helps give the image depth and the realistic proportions create a sense of realism in the image.

illustration for Healthcare Dive Header image for an upcoming piece on Healthcare Dive about mergers and acquisitions


  • Geometric and recognizable shapes
  • Exaggerated human features
  • Unnatural color choices
  • Simplified and flat shapes
  • Subject is sometimes in unrecognizable space

For this more “playful” illustration, I used bold colors and flat yet recognizable shapes to make it feel more animated. One aspect that makes this image particularly playful is how disproportionate the shopping cart is to the figure. This takes away a large amount of the realism and therefore makes this image less serious.

illustration for Education Dive An illustration from Education Dive's "3 tips for identifying what's useful in ed tech"

How to combine the two

Although playful illustrations can come off as childish, if executed carefully the exaggerated features and colors can have a sense of sophistication and display content in an equally impactful way.

An example of this can be seen in an editorial illustration I created for CIO Dive on cyber security. I chose to combine cartoon-like elements (ie. the hand-drawn hands) with more realistic and traditional elements (ie. everything is proportional) to create a sense of the sinister and unexpected lurking within the ordinary. The hand reaching around from behind the light switch conveys the central point of internet security.

illustration for CIO Dive Header image from CIO dive’s "In an era of global malware attacks, what happens if there's no kill switch?"

Another example of creating a balance between playful and corporate illustration styles is the series I created for Supply Chain Dive. The article discusses how the expansion of the Panama Canal affected the distribution process in the shipping industry. I portrayed this with dramatic interpretations of the waves and the sky to suggest the troubles within the industry. I also tried to incorporate actual elements from the Panama Canal and use red and blue to reflect Industry Dive’s brand.

illustration for Supply Chain Dive This is the thrid image from a Supply Chain Dive series on ocean shipping

Evaluating these differences in illustration styles has helped me explore the right look for Industry Dive and our brand. The exploration continues as I try to better define and execute different styles in each illustration.