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An illustrator’s advice for breaking into the digital product space

Fran Pulido As an illustrator, you may have never dreamed of seeing your work published in an app. It’s time to overcome this prejudice. In this post, illustrator Fran Pulido explains how to shine in the digital product space—a world constantly demanding visually amazing experiences and talent.

At some point in our lives, we have all drawn. We have all used a pencil and a piece of paper to explain an idea that was difficult for us to express in words alone (or at least for the pure pleasure of it). The difference is that some of us continue to draw our entire lives. This is what happened to me.

My name is Fran. I’m an illustrator at Z1, and the romanticism that prompted me to continue holding the pencil remains intact. In fact, it has transcended into the digital realm—a space in which I now also navigate.

One day, I discovered that the word “illustration” comes from Latin and that it literally means to illuminate. I loved this. In a way, our job consists of lighting up an idea, helping it to be understood, and using our flashlight to turn it into an aesthetic experience.

The word “illustration” comes from Latin, and it literally means "to illuminate".

This is fascinating to those of us who choose to pursue careers in Graphic Design or Fine Arts—to those of us who dream of seeing our work in an exhibition, on the album of a musician we love, or on the cover of a magazine—something I’m proud to have achieved in papers like El País, where I began to collaborate a couple of years ago.

However, the few of us who opt for this way of life, (especially if we already have a few years under our belt) never dreamed of seeing our illustration work published in an app. I used to be one of those individuals. I thought that print was better for illustration because it’s a physical, tangible object and has a halo of prestige.

Digital seemed like a throwaway product. Fortunately, this perception is already being challenged. Long ago, I pole-vaulted over this prejudice. But my time working alongside my Z1 teammates has finished chiseling my vision. Working with developers, designers, copywriters, and product managers, I’ve learned that the romanticism and beauty of our profession is not only experienced in the digital field, but also takes flight thanks to the advantages of the medium and teamwork.

Trip - Mental health App Illustration animation app art background digital product drug health illustration landscape medical meditation mental health mind mindfulness relax sleep sunset tree ui design uiux
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Trip - Mental health App Illustration

by Fran Pulido

I’ve worked with the Z1 and Field Trip Health teams to create Trip, a digital product for guiding you through consciousness-expanding experiences, with the use of drugs or not ✨🌺 It has been an exciting project from zero to one, in which we had the cha...

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I can’t believe the misconception that still exists around digital illustration. Especially in today’s world where we all spend so much time on our mobile screens—more so this year as we’ve practically learned to live on the internet. However, the idea of ​​the bohemian illustrator who works on books, posters, magazines, or exhibitions always reappears. But I have to tell you something, colleagues—in this day and age, to work only in these formats is no longer realistic.

We are faced with an increasingly experienced & exigent user who no longer only seeks usability, but also quality & beauty.

Digital Products is a growing sector and requires visually amazing experiences as we face an increasingly experienced and exigent user who no longer only seeks usability but also quality. There are work and growth opportunities for illustrators here—a professional future in which your skills will improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Yes, in my portfolio today, you’ll find illustrations for prestigious national newspapers. But you’ll also find work for apps such as Less, which helps thousands of users to have a healthier relationship with alcohol consumption. Or experiences as fascinating as Trip, one of the most beautiful and complex challenges that I have undertaken at Z1—an app that accompanies you on psychotropic trips. Check it out:

Trip — Mental Health Application app application consciousness consciousness-expanding dailyui design digital products feelings health journal landscape mindfulness personal growth psychedelics trip tripping ui ux wellness z1

Trip — Mental Health Application

by Lucía Guillén for Z1

How should an app based on psychedelic therapies look like? 🤷 We didn't have the answer, but after putting our five senses understanding Field Trip's motivations and needs, we did know we had to run away from stereotypes. Trip needed to be design...

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On some occasions, my work has been defined as “fresh and vibrant,” and I like to think that those are the qualities that we also strive to achieve in the digital products we design here at the studio. At Z1, I was surprised at the amount of care given to design, as well as the constant training of the team. In fact, we’ve launched FixThatCrAAP, a redesign challenge to help our community stay up-to-date in UI.

Of course, if reading this motivates you to transition into the world of digital products, there are a few things you need to know. Here are some tips to enter this field that’s in high-demand of illustration professionals like you:

Embrace the team approach ​

When it comes to product illustration, you have to be willing to work with a team, to support the needs of your colleagues, and to understand that you’re sailing in a boat where many row together. And you’ll quickly discover that it’s actually pretty great.

Never stop learning

If want to design or illustrate for digital products, you need to be a voracious consumer of these experiences. In addition, you should be aware of everything that can help to improve your work. This includes reading (it helped me a lot to rediscover comics books, for example), to soak up each new trend in the market, and, of course, the tools that can refine your results.

If you want to design or illustrate for digital products, you need to be a voracious consumer of these experiences.

There’s a vast range of courses, but my advice is that you never abandon the self-taught approach. Many companies are ahead of the game, so you always need to keep an eye on how the industry is evolving if you want to stay up-to-date.

Podcast Memberships app application brand character coins conceptual art design illustration membership partner podcast podcasting radio ui ux ui design ux design
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Podcast Memberships

by Fran Pulido

I made these illustrations for Supercast , a unique tool that turns listeners into subscribers and unlocks recurring revenue. One of the pieces is for their product guide, where they explain to podcasters how their business model works, and the other ...

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Use the right tools

Pencil and paper are still my starting point, but I can’t rely on only these tools. A drawing tablet and the use of some software are essential. In my case, it’s an iPad Pro, Cintiq Pro 16, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Procreate. Speed ​​is one of the most valued skills in an illustrator, as long as it doesn’t compromise quality. Mastering these tools will help you move faster.

Be bold

In my case, it was Manolo Ortega, Lead Designer at Z1, who got in touch with me. But until then, a lot of the work I landed came from reaching out to individuals, studios, and agencies that interested me. Advance your portfolio with joy. It’s the only way for potential collaborators to understand your value and your passion. And remember that a half-hour coffee date with an experienced professional (even if it is virtual) can provide you with invaluable advice for your career.

It all adds up

Just because you move into a new sector doesn’t mean you have to discard your previous knowledge. For example, my design training helped me understand typography, hierarchy, and sizing issues when working as a press illustrator. At the same time, working in print helped me to bring textures and uses of color to the digital world. It’s a matter of adapting your skills.

Recruiting agency bike card character form hangout hire hiring illustration meeting no code people process recruit recruiting team teamwork texture z1
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by Fran Pulido

This illustration visually supports a Medium post by Z1 about the recruiting process they are implementing with no-code tools. I found cool the idea of the tandem to represent this chain selection system that facilitates the process both for the candi...

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Don’t focus on the recognition

We all know the joy that comes from seeing your name next to your creations. Even though your name won’t likely stand next to your work in an app, the good illustrators end up being recognized. Creative studios are already showing off the illustrators on their teams. Think of people like Pablo Stanley or Miguel Camacho.

Embrace the freedom

Digital illustration opens up an infinite field of possibilities. You can literally do what you want with it. It does not occupy a physical space in anyone’s house, but in return, you will see your creations in motion, and this is priceless.

Promote yourself and your work

This is vital. Keep up to date with each platform or social network that your followers use to see your designs. Share new content on your social networks and encourage conversations with your followers by adding context to your shots. Explain what went into the work, what role illustration has played in the game, or how you have developed it. We are designers, so we have to put just as much care into how we showcase our work as the actual work itself.

Launching digital products app character dashboard digital product fit fit girl girl health home launch pattern remote work shape stayhome staysafe texture thinking ui yoga z1
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Launching digital products

by Fran Pulido

Illustration for the Z1 blog that represents the ideal moment in which we find ourselves to launch digital products. It sure reminds many of us of those confined days exercising in front of the computer, reflecting at the same time about the digital pr...

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Final thoughts

If you dare to try it, I guarantee you’ll enjoy working with a team in the many iterations of the UI design process, until you know the product like the back of your hand. And, of course, there’s nothing like seeing that sketch you made on a Tuesday morning being used by hundreds, if not thousands, of different hands.

The digital products industry and consumers demand and deserve excellence. As it is, the words art, talent, quality, experimentation and avant-garde also work here. What do I say! They mostly work here! Who ever said that your illustrations as a digital product designer can’t end up at MOMA like the first emoji designs? Above all, think about how your work will travel in the pockets of so many people—people who one day will open the app that you enlightened and will access a richer experience thanks to the fact that you did your part. Is there a better purpose for a piece of art than that?

Fran Pulido About the Author: Born in the coastal city of Cádiz, Fran Pulido is one of the young talents in Spanish illustration. His fusion between Fine Arts and Graphic Design has allowed him to develop a style that shines both in the editorial media and the digital products sector. He publishes in papers like The Washington Post, Forbes, and El País. Find him on franpulido.com.

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