I recently hand-drew hundreds of tiny arrows for a Longreads illustration. It took about four hours, with a few breaks to check Slack and refill my chai.
I knew I could have drawn a few arrows and duplicated them in Photoshop. I would’ve added some brush strokes to differentiate them from each other, and it would’ve looked fine. I doubt anyone would have noticed. If they did, I figure they’d have understood. But I couldn’t bring myself to take that shortcut this time.
I have a small daughter, and we spend a lot of time reading children’s books. One of our favorites is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I have tons of respect for Eric Carle. His illustrations, textures, and stories are extrordinary and they’re definitely an inspiration to me.
But the other day I happened to turn from the dedication page of The Very Hungry Caterpillar straight to the back cover. And I noticed something subtle:
See it? The same exact sun appears in both places.
This is oviously not a huge deal, so I don’t want to criticize it too much. Eric (or an assistant) could have created another unique, handmade sun, but didn’t. Maybe they were short on time, maybe they just realized it wasn’t a huge deal. In the end, few will notice. But it is a little distraction that I can’t help but see every time I read the book now. It’s a digital touch that subtly works against the genuine, warm, handmade aesthetic.
When I sat down to work on the Longreads illustration, I thought about that sun, and decided to push myself a little farther. It took a bit of extra time, but I’m happier with the result than I would’ve been.
I frequently cut corners. We all do. Whether it’s faking something in Photoshop, writing messy code, or launching a feature that you know needs more refinement. I won’t argue that it’s wrong to take shortcuts (Hey, even Eric Carle does it!). But at the very least, I think it’s good to realize when you’re doing so, and to feel a little guilty about it. That tiny bit of guilt will help push you towards stronger, more genuine design.