Illustration on Wikipedia
So, I’ve been thinking about illustration a lot recently. Personally, a lot of my thoughts about illustration revolve around how I’m not capable of doing it and how jealous I am of people who are. It was best articulated for me by the Chair of the graphic design program at AU, who explained the difference between the traditional track and photo track in the graphic design major (I decided to minor anyway). Basically, if you don’t have the years of structured drawing skills, you do the next best thing—photography. However, illustration’s role in Design (as opposed to design) has definitely changed from an either/or kind of situation. This is well analyzed over in an article on Design Observer.
But even more recently, a Phillip Greenspun donated $20,000 to Wikipedia expressly for the purpose of paying illustrators for top notch accompanying illustrations. According to the proposal, Greenspun touts many advantages of illustration found in the above DO post: “What can take pages of text to explain may be understood in a single picture. A visual representation can inspire understanding of a novel concept far more quickly than the textual equivalent.” Sounds great.
But wait a minute, isn’t Wikipedia free from monetary compensation? Who’s to say that words are less valuable? (illustrations will go at $40 a pop.) I wasn’t sure myself, until I read this blog post by Greenspun himself, saying, “To me, paying an illustrator is like paying a typesetter or someone else who assist in preparing a manuscript.” In fact, it’s like paying the programmers who keep Wikipedia up and looking great. And how will it work? According to the post:
1) author sketches in pencil, scans, and uploads to a queue, (2) illustrator somewhere in the world downloads the pencil sketch, reworks competently, and uploads to an approval queue (email notification to the author), (3) author reviews to make sure that the professionally drawn illustration is consistent with the pencil sketch, (4) illustrator gets paid and drawing goes live on Wikipedia, with hyperlink credit to a page where all of the illustrator’s contributions are shown and that has contact information for that illustration.
I think this is a really positive and interesting development for the design community and the internet. As opposed to new technologies that limit creativity and streamline information into one soulless format — Amazon’s Kindle only allows black and only has one typeface — Wikipedia is opening a new market for a timeless skill. A skill of which I am still very jealous of people who possess it.