Shooting Blanks

Image templates enable designers to show proposed work in the best possible light. But, as the realism increases and work spreads online, does it matter that it’s now becoming so much harder to work out just what is real and what isn’t?

Image templates enable designers to show proposed work in the best possible light. But, as the realism increases and work spreads online, does it matter that it’s now becoming so much harder to work out just what is real and what isn’t?

With ever-tightening budgets and deadlines, answering a brief often involves showing a new design across a range of applications as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Carton by LiveSurface

In the new issue of CR (shown above) we examine how, over the last few years, a small crop of designer-focused image libraries, including LiveSurface in the US and PrestoVisual in the UK, have been filling a potentially lucrative gap.

These sites sell templates of billboards, poster sites, business cards, clothes, bags, bottles and boxes – anything that can incorporate a designer’s vision.

Billboard by LiveSurface

In the article, which also considers why crowd-funding site KickStarter recently banned image renderings from its site (and why eBay should never have made its own ‘shopping bags’ render in the first place), we hear from designers David Airey, Armin Vit, Michael Johnson and Simon Manchipp, and also LiveSurface founder, Joshua Distler.

Airport billboard by LiveSurface

It was a joke Manchipp made at his recent talk at TYPO London that made us think there might be a more serious side to all this. On a slide showing the recent Olympics pictograms, designed by his studio SomeOne, he’d added “Guaranteed 100% LiveSurface Free!”

Olympic pictograms by SomeOne in a photograph. A real one

His point was that, yes, the photographs of flags and banners from the Olympic Park were real – this was the studio’s actual work for London 2012, implemented by the LOCOG in-house team and fluttering in the wind and everything.

These images weren’t mock-ups, the kinds of renders that his studio and countless others use to show what executions of their work might look like. But – and his joke admitted as such – they could have been.

FastJet poster image by SomeOne, made using LiveSurface

“Context is often critical,” Manchipp says, “and a cold layout fresh from InDesign does little to convey the emotions felt when [the work] is in your hands, printed in a newspaper. So the LiveSurface system is brilliant at rapidly getting design work in context so it can be more realistically viewed by those paying the bills.”

But does it matter that it’s getting harder to tell the difference between the real work and the mock-ups?

Bag mock-up by SomeOne

“It’s when things leak out into the real world that it gets a little surreal,” says Michael Johnson, who believes issues arise due to the relatively short list of applications available for many smaller projects.

“There’s a website, a Facebook header and probably a business card,” he says. “After that? Very few clients can afford to do outdoor ad campaigns or change their signage so the frustrated designer, seeing their scheme get drastically reduced, lets a few of those ‘hypotheticals’ leak out into the real world and, before long, they almost become real themselves.

“Things come to a head when you judge award schemes,” Johnson continues. “The branding section is always crammed with gleaming identities beautifully ‘applied out’ but you know that only a third of them ever happened.”

Those eBay bags

While the eBay ‘shopping bags’ that appeared during the brand’s recent logo redesign were misplaced to say the least, rendering certainly has its uses to professional designers. For David Airey, visualising new work in this way is simply another part of the creative process.

“As soon as it’s out of the designer’s head and onto paper, or onto a computer screen, it’s there for others to see. It’s real,” he says. “The work might not yet be shown to its full capacity, or developed as precisely as it will be in future, but it’s there, forming the basis of the more tangible items that can follow.”

For the full story, with more from all the designers mentioned above, see our December issue, out now.

Please note, CR now has a limited presence on the newsstand at WH Smith high street stores (although it can still be found in WH Smith travel branches at train stations and airports). If you cannot find a copy of CR in your town, your WH Smith store or a local independent newsagent can order it for you. You can search for your nearest stockist here.

Alternatively, call us on 020 7970 4878 to buy a copy direct from us. Based outside the UK? Simply call +44(0)207 970 4878 to find your nearest stockist. Better yet, subscribe to CR for a year here and save yourself almost 30% on the printed magazine.

CR In print

In our December issue we look at why carpets are the latest medium of choice for designers and illustrators. Plus, Does it matter if design projects are presented using fake images created using LiveSurface and the like? Mark Sinclair looks in to the issue of mocking-up. We have an extract from Craig Ward’s upcoming book Popular Lies About Graphic Design and ask why advertising has been so poor at preserving its past. Illustrators’ agents share their tips for getting seen and we interview maverick director Tony Kaye by means of his unique way with email. In Crit, Guardian economics leader writer Aditya Chakrabortty review’s Kalle Lasn’s Meme Wars and Gordon Comstock pities brands’ long-suffering social media managers. In a new column on art direction, Paul Belford deconstructs a Levi’s ad that was so wrong it was very right, plus, in his brand identity column, Michael Evamy looks at the work of Barcelona-based Mario Eskenazi. And Daniel Benneworth-Gray tackles every freelancer’s dilemma – getting work.

Our Monograph this month, for subscribers only, features the EnsaïmadART project in which Astrid Stavro and Pablo Martin invited designers from around the world to create stickers to go on the packaging of special edition packaging for Majorca’s distinctive pastry, the ensaïmada, with all profits going to a charity on the island (full story here)

CR for the iPad

Read in-depth features and analysis plus exclusive iPad-only content in the Creative Review iPad App. Longer, more in-depth features than we run on the blog, portfolios of great, full-screen images and hi-res video. If the blog is about news, comment and debate, the iPad is about inspiration, viewing and reading. As well as providing exclusive, iPad-only content, the app will also update with new content throughout each month. Try a free sample issue here

  • An interesting read and a subject which throws up as many questions as it poses. The main one being; if the work is great, does the fact that it doesn’t exist in the real world actually matter?

    We wrote about the topic on our blog recently…

  • James

    Personally I believe good design is design to the finest detail. This involves the specifics of both the material and the context in which the work exists. I don’t think there could be much of an argument against this, it’s just a case of studios, designers and studios taking the time and having the money to make and document the work in a real context. This is not always possible, but when it happens it mostly results in more interesting work.

  • James

    *and students

  • I agree Mat. As long as the work is really good. who actually cares! :) Very interesting read though.

  • Blank templates are vital for graphic designers, especially to help communicate their designs to clients. Such material is perfect for visualising something like a new logo design in varying real-world-esque scenarios or contexts.

  • Steve

    I agree it’s vital to show work to a client in its context to enable the work to come alive, but to take it externally and apply a design in imaginary circumstances to bulk a project out and entering it for design awards, is that right?

  • There’s a craft to creating a good digital mock up (just as there is in creating a decent physical one) that shouldn’t be overlooked. At times it can be a valuable exercise to see how a concept adapts and flexes to different executions… but it does all get a bit OTT at times, with those 48 sheets and stitched banners no-one ever intends to produce.

    Another good reason (as mentioned by David in the MatDolphin comments) to fall-back on these mocked-up visuals, especially in a portfolio context, is that of convenience – getting a good shot of your work in situ is often near impossible, always time consuming and rarely looks as slick as a visual.

    The problem here is whether the work shown is what went live, or just what you wished the client had gone for… honesty remains the best policy!

    Great to see ‘that’ poster site included –

  • I have no objections to designers using mocked-up imagery to display the potential of their work, but I think the onus is on us to make sure those mock-ups are appropriate to the project in question. ebay’s bags are a prime example of using mock-ups to portray the brand as something slightly different than it is, a bit of honesty and integrity goes a long way.

    As for the awards panels, as an insustry should we be judged on our concepts, or the actual results that stem from them (or both)?

  • Steve

    They’re a useful tool, but should keep mock-ups appropriate to the brief, and between yourself and the client. If the project gets scaled back, for whatever reason, then move on and leave them for the “what could have been categories” at awards shows. Otherwise you’re just the fisherman bragging about the “one that got away”

  • @Steve “… apply a design in imaginary circumstances to bulk a project out and entering it for design awards, is that right?”

    This raises the question, what, exactly are the awards judging?

    Are you judging an Identity on it’s merits alone, i.e. how far can you take the idea, how flexible is it, how many opportunities to expand the brand are there, how does it adapt to different applications and ‘use scenarios’.


    Are you judging the commercial throughput of a job, i.e. what the studio managed to get through not only management, the client and their shareholders, but also the budget.

    I would argue both are equally valid viewpoints for judging a studios creativity.

  • Steve


    Good points, but I would also add our industry is a commercial operation. A designer can produce wondrous work sat in front of a computer, applying it in numerous thoughtful and witty ways. Yet, if they’re just showing how they wish the brand could be extended (even though it will never happen), I’m just not comfortable with someone winning awards on the basis of it. We are designers, not artists.

  • Tushar Gupte

    To see one’s work in the real work in deeply gratifying. I have never had any personal satisfaction from the mock-ups that I have created using one of these blank templates.

    To me it satisfys the “industry” and their clients, and for that I think it is an important tool at a designer’s disposal. It can effectively impress a potential employer during an interview process. Agency creative directors are used to doing things this way for their clients, so if you show them what they show their clients, you’re in. Presentation is everything.

  • Leanne

    In regards to the judging panel I think we should be judged on our ideas as Michael Johnson stated above a lot of companies will go to a Branding/Design agency with x amount of money and a problem that needs solving and many of these companies have enough money to implement it. Why shouldn’t we be awarded for our thinking? isn’t that what design is all about, generating ideas communicating and problem solving.

  • Houri

    I am very sorry, to make a comment, seemingly unrelated to the article, but as the designer who created, ‘implemented’ and installed the artwork on the Riverbank Arena shown in this article, I would like to clarify that only the pictograms in the image were designed by SomeOne, and that the actual designs were not implemented at Futurebrand – who had no involvement with the designs and overall look for grandstands.

    Whilst it is heartening to read and see so many of the agencies and partners who worked as part of the Games getting their much deserved recognition for it – it is also increasingly disheartening to continually read work being attributed incorrectly or misleadingly, and often neglecting or side-lining the work genuinely produced within the in-house studio at London 2012, who did design a significant portion of the Games-time look not just as artworkers or implementers.

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @ Houri

    That has been corrected, apologies. I would point out that the in-house team at LOCOG was fully credited for its work in the many pieces CR has written about 2012, both in print and online