I recently had the pleasure of being commissioned by a new member to the Scientific American blog network, Ilana Yurkiewicz, to create a custom banner image. She is a first year Harvard medical student and her blog is called Unofficial Prognosis.
One of my biggest challenges was creating an image that would work well at a rather small size, as the icon is only 200 x 135 px as it appears on the website. Based on her concept, I felt that pictogram style elements would work most successfully. Coming up with pictograms that have their own unique character, yet still are of a simple, geometric nature is one of my favorite areas of design.
My process in creating pictograms always starts with first researching what's already been done. Research is an important step with this because when images are pared down to their essential forms, it's easy to end up creating something exactly like what's already out there. With some items, it's practically unavoidable. But with others, there are ways to push them into new territory. I experiment and play with the form until something distinct emerges. The tiniest details matter greatly on such simply designed objects.
With every project, I always end up learning something new not only about design, but about the subject matter. One of Ilana's excellent suggestions during the course of the project was the addition of the Rod of Asclepius instead of a more generic first aid cross I had included initially. The Rod of Asclepius, an ancient Greek symbol associated with healing and medicine, consists of one serpent entwined around a staff. It is used as the symbol for many modern healthcare organizations in the United States. However, in the course of my research, I discovered that use of the similar Caduceus, two snakes on a winged staff, as a symbol of medicine is also common. This is an unfortunate mistake, as Caduceus is traditionally associated with commerce and trickery.
The significance of a project like this for the client is not lost on me - the banner is being used to represent Ilana's entire blog and be a part of her online identity. It's certainly not saving lives, but it's still a tall order that I never take lightly. There's nothing more satisfying to me than creating something that's original, interesting, successfully conveys the concept within given parameters, and the client is 110% happy with.
I loved every minute of working on this banner and have to thank Ilana once again for giving me the opportunity. I'm looking forward to reading her blog and seeing the experience of medical school unfold from her perspective. Check it out for yourself! You can also follow Ilana on twitter @ilanayurkiewicz.