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Illustration: Drawing on Design

Optimal Workshop

The use of Illustration in design can add freshness and energy to the work. It can also be used to convey complex ideas in a more accessible manner. GSM takes a look at one such project that makes great use of illustration.

with Chris Flack @strategycreative, Optimal Workshop, and Loryn Engelsman @lorynengelsman

Illustration as a Communication Tool

Wellington-based company Optimal Workshop specialises in card-sorting. This is a data information service delivered via a web-based subscription system, OptimalSort. This data guides clients in improving their website’s User Experience (UX). Currently, customers in more than 105 countries subscribe to OptimalSort. In 2021, Optimal Workshop produced a strategy document to communicate its unique purpose and vision to stakeholders, team and investors. The company assigned the design task to Strategy Creative—congruous? Yes indeed.

Empathy Engine

With such a diverse audience of internal, external, technical and non-technical members, it was crucial that the document was easily digestible. And yet it needed to remain professional. And, most importantly, convey the clients’ core values of being approachable, curious and bold. Early in the project, the team at Strategy saw an opportunity to play on some of the concepts within UX. Specifically, the ‘Empathy Engine’. Many websites use these artificial intelligence systems to provide relevant information to users. One of the ways to do this is through the perception of emotion within their given responses or questions. The team asked — What might an ‘Empathy Engine’ look like if it was a ‘physical’ thing? A multilevel machine made of cogs, run by a team of workers in different departments, all striving to input and output information.

Fun & Playful

illustration optimal workshopThe team at Strategy took this idea and decided to develop ‘some sort of diagram to show such a machine’. Kiwi illustrator, Loryn Engelsman, took up the project. As she explains, ‘The challenge lay in taking an existing style, then polishing and refining this into something distinct to the client. We wanted a carefully balanced look that was fun and playful. Yet refined, clean and organised. The resulting illustration is deliberately simplistic in approach. It relies on a few details and props, but with colourful characters to tell the story.’

Illustration in Print

Illustration StrategyThe 38-page, A4 Strategy booklet seeks to communicate the vision. It also provides insight into the business culture and ethos.

Illustration Optimal WorkshopThe team used the ‘master’ illustration on the document cover. They then extracted and used a suite of mini-scenes throughout the document to create the visual narrative. The underlying message is that a ‘strategy’ comprises many parts that form the whole.

illustrationUsing illustration in this way shows the complexities of card-sorting and data analysis on a conceptual level. However, it avoids going into the potential abyss of explaining all the technical details. The result? A document that engages and inspires whilst communicating the unique culture and ethos of the client.

Strategy chose BJ Ball Mohawk Superfine Eggshell Ultra White to print the document (352gsm for the cover and 118gsm for the text). Mohawk Superfine has a reputation for quality, consistency and uniformity. The eggshell texture was chosen for its lush tactility and timeless appeal.


The 2021 Optimal Workshop Strategy document was a finalist at the 2021 Best Awards for Design Craft/Illustration and the AGDA Awards 2021 for Design Craft and Writing for Design.

This article was originally published in GSM18. To read this, and other great articles, purchase this issue here.