An insight into the daily life of a designer who traded in her mouse for a pencil

You’d think being a designer in a web shop I’d basically live and breathe in pixels, but I have to let you in on a little trade secret… that’s not always the case.

In fact, you should always keep a pencil in your back pocket for those unexpected moments when a mouse just won’t do. As a designer, we have to create every element that will go onto a website or app, and at times that means going back to our roots and tapping into the illustration part of our brains. 

I’m going to take a break from thinking in pixels for a moment, and take you through a very illustration-heavy project that has fallen into my lap. Sure, the initial project was designing an app interface, but little did I know that would lead me into creating 160+ illustrations.

What are we talking about?

To give you a bit of a background on this project, my team and I were tasked with designing a mobile app. It wasn’t just any old mobile app though… it came with a twist. We had the added challenge of having to come up with an idea to engage the users even further. 

So, we all locked ourselves in a room, brainstormed, and ultimately landed on the idea of taking the users on a journey around the world. Throughout this journey, they’d be given a badge representing whichever destination spot they’ve traveled to, based on the progress they’ve made in the app so far. With the idea nailed down, the design naturally followed suit and we had to make this idea come to life! 

Choosing a style ain’t easy.

Coming up with a style is always one of the toughest parts of this job. It sounds easy, but you have to make sure whatever style you choose is the best solution and works not only for the client, but more importantly for the final interface and end user. In this case, we wanted a style that’s fun (for lack of a better word), shows some dimension, and truly captures each destination. Simple, visible at a small size, and ultimately creating a cohesive series, in the end, were also top priorities for this project.

We did this by creating a few mood boards, all of which represent different style options our client can choose from. A mood board is basically a collection of inspiration to evoke a particular style and they help a client visualize what their end product is going to look like. This is an incredibly important step in any project’s process. It’s the first creative thing a client sees and reacts to. If they don’t like a style you’ve come up with, this is your chance to come up with another option, with very few consequences.

Just imagine bypassing this step and going straight into design and having a client not like the style you came up with. That would take much more of an effort to revise than simply creating another mood board with a different style.  


Sketch it out.

Even though we deal primarily in pixels, I’m of the mindset that you should always start a project by sketching with a good ‘ol pencil and paper first. Your sketches don’t have to be beautiful, as long as you can get your ideas across. They don’t even have to be client-facing, so that should take some of your initial nerves out of the equation.

Just think about all of the elements you want to incorporate and start sketching various layouts to see which one works the best without the use of a mouse. This way you’re going back to the basics, letting your thoughts flow directly onto the paper. 

The purpose of sketching, whether it’s for a website, or illustration, is to allow yourself to not get hung up on the visual details and to take a moment to work out all of your design fundamentals – making sure your layout will work for your end user. Because, let’s face it, if you can’t get a layout to work on paper, it sure as hell won’t work when you bring it into the computer… even with the magic of Adobe.


Into the computer, we go.

Speaking of computers, once you get your idea nailed down, this is the prime time to trade your pencil back in for your mouse and start bringing those ideas to life. You can spend countless hours on a sketch, trying to perfect it, but as long as your idea has been put on paper, it’s quicker to bring it into the computer and perfect it that way.

For this project, I wanted to use a combination of original illustrations with some Stock sprinkled in, and a few consistent background elements, to create a cohesive series of destination badges.


I’m a huge proponent of using Stock assets, it’s not cheating and no one should ever think it is. It speeds up the process and you can modify the hell out of a Stock illustration you’ve found to make it completely your own. That’s precisely why Stock sites exist anyway, because why recreate 800 different clouds to get a certain style when you can find one that looks exactly like how you would’ve drawn it in the first place?

Just like every project, following a process like this is great, but the trick is to take a step back and not be afraid to tell yourself something isn’t working. And if it’s not, pick that pencil back up and go back to the drawing board.


Emily Acanfora (Alumni)

About Emily Acanfora (Alumni)

Emily Acanfora served as an Art Director at Liquid Interactive. Emily specialized in web design and advertising design with working knowledge in both design and development.