Case Study: Six Reasons Why Your Neurons Like Illustrations (and Hate Photography)

Neuron or nerve cell illustration from LeQ MedicalIllustrations are probably the single biggest secret to writing effective how-to and informational pieces, whether it’s a clinical article or a manual. We’ve seen a major trend these days toward photography in manuals, technical literature, and even clinical pieces, for which we blame Bill Gates. Microsoft put software in the hands of the masses who now believe that they can single-handedly write great technical literature and product literature, but since the masses generally cannot draw, they use digital photography to provide illustrations for their homemade manuals.

But illustrations, whether highly refined as the neuron art here or simple line drawings, offer six major advantages to your informational, technical, clinical, and how-to materials.

  1. An illustration is artificial, which means we can take the object or even concept and illustrate it showing only what is important. Has a giant neuron ever appeared as we have illustrated it? No, of course not. But the purpose of our illustration is to show the reader (or web visitor) the key elements included in a neuron. Photographs and other “real-life” image techniques include a lot of noise or extraneous material. It’s hard for your brain to sort out what is important from what is just “there.”
  2. The illustration allows us to exaggerate certain aspects of the image–whether it’s a workflow diagram or a picture of a brain cell–so that the reader can get a very clear concept. Dendrites are not really as clean-cut as they appear here, but it is important for a person learning about neurons to understand that they have fiber-like projections.
  3. Illustrations allow you to control what you show you reader. This includes being able to blow up or magnify certain areas.
  4. Illustrations minimize the need for translation and can facilitate the translation of the text you do have to put into another language. Translators charge by the word. Translating this drawing involves translating 14 words (cost, less than one of those fancy coffee drinks), but it communicates a great deal. Furthermore, translators working on your narrative text can use the art as reference.
  5. People understand illustrations. Photography, fluoroscopy, radiography, ECG or EEG tracings, and all of the rest can be a bit of a foreign language, particularly for laypeople or clinicians who are just not used to those images. Even photographs can be tough to interpret if not properly staged. Illustrations are something that everyone understands: people of all ages from all over the world know how to “interpret” a drawing.
  6. Illustrations give you some style. When you rely on photography or images from real-world medicine, you run the very real risk that they will all look different. I’ve seen manuals that use photography to explain how to assemble items … and the photographs are each a unique style. Some are dark, some are light. The hands in one are quite clearly different than the hands in the next photo, and the hands in the third photo are wearing gloves. With illustrations your manual or training book has a coherence to it.

LeQ Medical can provide a wealth of illustrations for your medical project. We do original, custom art, which means you can submit it as “original” to journals or publish it through your company. Although you can use the art, you must buy the copyright separately if you want to be the copyright owner. If you want original art work, talk to us and we can explain costs, timelines, and whether or not it makes sense for you to hold the copyright.