Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How Employers Evaluate Job Applicants: 1. The Recommendation Process

This is the time of the year when many illustration and design students will be graduating from college having achieved their degrees. It is also the time they will begin searching for a job. With portfolio in hand or online, their resume, and other formatted bits of information and credentials, graduates will approach prospective employers with hopes of being hired. In nearly every case, applicants will be doing so without any idea as to how employers go about evaluating them for employment.

© 2014 Don Arday.
Employers are well prepared when it comes to evaluating and making decisions about candidates they are considering for hire. Many companies have instituted specific systems of evaluating an applicants skills and qualifications that provide metric information to contrast and compare them with the job description at hand, and also with other applicants. Even small businesses have information sets that provide a standard by which they consider a job applicant.

Unfortunately most applicants are often unaware of this well thought out set of standards and the process of evaluation, but wouldn’t it be nice if job applicants knew what those standards were in order to prepare a better application.

Now in all practicality it is virtually impossible to tap into all the standards and rubrics that every company could possibly use, but there a certain common categories that, in one form or another, can be expected to be part of the evaluation process.

Process Overview

Employers rely upon three resource streams of information to evaluate candidates for a position.
  1.  Recommendations. These come from outside people that supply information based on personal familiarity with an applicant, which can be in the form of a formal written letter or a direct conversation. 
  2.  Knowledge. Acquired and measured in-house directly from an applicant and the credentials presented by that applicant, which can occur face-to-face or through remote resources and correspondence.
  3. Verification. Sources of information that verify basic employee requirements a well as the accuracy of the information presented by the applicant, which might include drug tests and skill based tests that are required, disclosures about citizenship and residency, non-compete issues that could exist from past employment, etc.
This article concentrates on the recommendation process including what is typically asked of a recommender and the content that is sought after by employers.


Not only are job applicants queried about their qualifications, but recommenders must qualify themselves as well. To evaluate the recommender employers request the following information.
  1. Longevity. How long the recommender has known the applicant. A recommender must state the length of time, usually in months and years. The rule is—the longer the better. Persons who ask for a recommendation after only a few months, or students who ask for a recommendation after only having a teacher for one course, are putting themselves at a disadvantage.
  2. Circumstances. In what capacity does the recommender know/has known the applicant. Is/was the recommender the applicant’s employer, supervisor, co-worker, school administrator, academic advisor, professor, professional mentor, fellow student, close friend, relative, etc. The rule is—a professional affiliation is better than a personal association.
  3. Expertise. How well a recommender is familiar with the profession or type of employment being sought by the applicant. Can the recommender offer specific knowledge as to how an applicant performs/performed in a prospective employers field or a specific job? The rule is—a practitioner in the field is better than a non-practitioner.


Concerning an applicants capability, recommenders are generally expected to provide three forms of information that make up the bulk of the content that is used to evaluate a job applicant.
  1. Description. Recommenders are expected to provide a useful description of the skills, knowledge, and habits the applicant possesses. So it is important that recommenders be in possession of as much descriptive information as possible.
  2. Comparison. For applicants already in a profession, how an applicant compares to his/her fellow workers when it comes to job performance or challenges, and an overall commitment to his/her work. On the academic side, how an applicant compares to his/her peers when it comes to academic performance including the rigor of a chosen course study, and the overall commitment to his/her academic success.
  3. Opinion. This is the most sought after and scrutinized information by employers provided by a recommender. And it is where a single opinion voiced on one recommendation can influence the outcome of an entire job application. How an opinion is stated is very important in influencing an outcome. For example, which of the following opinions sounds better?
                           a.     Please consider     Name     for the position of concept artist.
b.     I sincerely recommend     Name      for the position of concept artist.
c.      I strongly recommend     Name      for the position of concept artist.
d.     I wholeheartedly recommend     Name      for the position of concept artist.


Recommenders supply prospective employers with another crucial set of information about a job applicant—character traits. Information about personality and interpersonal skills can provide the deciding factor in an employer’s decision to hire an applicant. There are several types of traits that are desired by employers.
  1. Leadership. The ability to manage projects and situations; and provide direction and guidance for other employees.
  2. Teamwork. Applicants who are willing to collaborate and work on group projects; and are eager to help and support coworkers.
  3. Initiative. Inventiveness and the ability to propose ideas; self-starters and go-getters; and the inclination to volunteer.
  4. Work Ethic. Demonstrating a potential for hard work and the capability to see a project through to completion.
  5. Time Management. The ability to be on time for work and meetings; and to realize deadlines and work on several projects simultaneously.
  6. Organization. Applicants that can demonstrate a sense of order and that utilize a practical workflow or a methodological style of work.
  7. Self-Discipline. Applicants who will not require constant direction and supervision; and who are trustworthy and reliable.
  8. Judgment. Possessing analytical skills and the capability to make decisions when needed; and to show maturity and be an estimable representative of the company.
  9. Creativity. The capacity to generate a multiplicity of ideas and to be innovative and original; and to demonstrate problem-solving abilities.
  10. Communication.
                    a.     Verbal. The talent to write clearly and concisely; to make verbal 
                          presentations; and to sell a concept or product.
b.     Interpersonal. Overall collegiality and the ability to be conversive and receptive to others.


As mentioned earlier, employers can take all of the categories and considerations stated above and apply them to a rubric, which is a guide for listing specific criteria for grading or scoring them. Each company has its own rubric criteria and system of assessment when it comes to job applications. As part of the recommendation process, applicants are ranked in specific categories, sometimes on a numerical scale and other times on a percentile scale according to the opinion of the recommender.

     1.  Percentile model. (The final percentage is averaged from all categories.)
                    a.     Below average (lowest 40%)
b.     Average (40-75%)
c.      Above average (75-90%)
d.     Outstanding (90-95%)
e.     Truly Exceptional (highest 5%)
f.      Cannot judge

    2.  Numerical model. (The final score is the sum of all categories.)
a.     5 (highest)
b.   4 (high average)
c.     3 (average)
d.   2 (low average)
e.     1 (lowest)
f.     Cannot rank

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Illustration Word Origin

With this article being the 100th posted on the Informed Illustrator, I thought it was high time we knew a little bit more regarding what we are all about. So I decided to research the single word that is most commonly used to describe what we do…illustration. I began by consulting four of the largest dictionaries of the English language. I also found some interesting examples of usage to accompany the definitions.

© 2014 Don Arday.


It is claimed that the first known use of the work arose sometime during the 14th century, but there is difficulty in firmly establishing if, and when, it did occur. The word illustration is derived from the Latin “illustratus”, which translates to “make bright”. It is also claimed that illustration was introduced as a replacement for “illumination” an earlier word in use. The first known use of illumination also occurred sometime during the 14th century. At that time the word can be attributed to unknown historians who described medieval manuscripts as having the ability to “light up” their texts. 

Googlebooks Ngram Viewer

The Google Ngram Viewer is a lesser known resource available from Google that provides data about the usage of words and phrases that have appeared in books over time. When a word or a phrase is entered into the Google Ngram search engine, the viewer displays a graph showing when it has occurred in a corpus of books over a specified time period. An Ngram search can be assigned by a specific country or language. The following graphs indicate 
the usage of “illustration” from the year 1500 on, first within the American English corpus and then within the British English corpus. The main difference between the two occurs from 1500 and 1650. This is owing to the fact that the publishing industry in American did not become widely established until the mid-17th century.

Data furnished by Googlebooks Ngram Viewer.

Data furnished by Googlebooks Ngram Viewer.

The American “golden age of illustration” is credited to have occurred between 1880 and shortly after World War I. Coincidently, the Google Ngram search 
also substantiates this by showing the most quotations of “illustration” in American English books appeared during this period than at any other point in the past 350-years.

Data furnished by Googlebooks Ngram Viewer.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

il·lus·tra·tion (ĭl′ə-strāshən)
n. 1. a. the action of illustrating : as the condition of being illustrated.
b. archaic: the action of making illustrious or honored or distinguished.
2. a. something that serves to illustrate: as an example or instance that helps make something clear.
b. a picture or diagram that helps make something clear or attractive.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

il·lus·tra·tion (ĭl′ə-strāshən)
n.1. a. The act of clarifying or explaining.
b. The state of being clarified or explained.
2. Material used to clarify or explain.
3. Visual matter used to clarify or decorate a text.

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 

illustration (ˌɪləˈstreɪʃən)
n 1. pictorial matter used to explain or decorate a text.
2. an example or demonstration: an illustration of his ability.
3. the act of illustrating or the state of being illustrated.

Random House Webster's College Dictionary

il·lus·tra·tion (ˌɪl əˈstreɪ ʃən)
n.1. something that illustrates, as a picture in a book or magazine.
2. a comparison or an example intended for explanation or corroboration.
3. the act or process of illuminating.
4. the act of clarifying or explaining; elucidation.

An Illustrator’s Definition

An illustration is a two- or three-dimensional pictorial image created to render, explain, elucidate, enhance, and call attention to an object, concept, description, expression, narrative, or a specific article described within by way of visual representation.

A Designer’s Definition

An illustration is a visualization or a depiction made by an artist, such as a drawingsketchpaintingphotograph, or other kind of image of things seen, remembered or imagined, using a graphical representation.

A Purposeful Difference

There are many characteristics that set apart an illustration from other forms of art. One main distinction is that illustrations are seldom presented in their original form, but are mainly seen when reproduced and disseminated within another form of media such as a magazine, book, on a website, etc. And, of course, there’s always Frank Stella’s viewpoint on illustration, “But, after all, the aim of art is to create space - space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the subjects of painting can live.”


  • The illustration on page 30 shows the parts of an engine.
  • A book with many photographs and illustrations.
  • The illustrations he provided were very effective.
  • They selected photographs to use for the illustration of the book.
  • Illustration is the key to good communication.
  • This delay is a perfect illustration of why we need a new computer system.
  • Examples are included, by way of illustration, to show the meaning more clearly.
  • You have to make thousands and thousands of drawings before an illustration is perfected.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Artistic Criticism 2: An Example Of Self-Criticism

Taking a cold hard look at ones own work is like swallowing a bitter pill, but like that pill, self-criticism is necessary for artistic growth and improvement. The trouble is, it’s not so easy to do, and many of us, even though we sat through hours of critiques in art school, don’t have a firm grasp on how to go about doing it, i.e., analyzing our own art. However we must as many of us illustrators work by ourselves and lack the ability to get an impromptu outside opinion when we need it.

Based on the article Artistic Criticism: 1. A Synopsis Of Self-Criticism, I intend to apply an analytical methodology to one of the illustrations I produced for a former post, in this case Writing An Elevator Speech. I will self-critique the illustration by analyzing its process, form, content, and context.

I will rework the illustration in an attempt to improve it. So here’s the method I will use. I’ll start by stating my intention for each of the four categories. In other words, what my idea or rational was. Then I’ll swallow that bitter pill by observing whether I accomplished my intention or not. Stating what could be done to improve the image, I will then set about reworking the illustration by following the suggestions put forth in the analysis sections. From this self-critique, I hope to improve the illustration in all four areas. The final revised version will be shown along with the original.

Process Intention

The intention was to execute an illustration digitally in Adobe Illustrator relying on vector techniques to provide accuracy and uniformity of form while simulating reflective materials.

Process Analysis

Effects in Illustrator provided a reasonable means to create a metallic surface and plastic forms. The flat surface panel gradients appear over constructed. There is an error in in the layer positioning of the reflected highlight on the elevator buttons.

Form Intention

Produce a stylized design of an elevator panel with a reflection appearing of a face that is speaking. The color and surface is meant to suggest metal and plastic materials. The image is meant to be an iconographic object rather than a scene or environment.

Form Analysis

Color Scheme

The scheme is primarily monochromatic to reflect the local color of the materials. Interest wise it could benefit from more color variety, even pseudo color. Color may offer the greatest opportunity for improving the attractiveness of the image.

The main compositional element is the panel with the variable element of the face, which is positioned relative to the panel buttons. There could be an improved relationship of elements if the face were altered to align more naturally with the panel and buttons.

Proportioning and Scale
The proportion and scale of elements is determined by their relationship and readability on a webpage. Elements may be excessively oversized for their function. Scale changes may improve the anatomical relationship of the face to the elevator buttons.

Rendering Effects
Adjustment of some of the rendering effects could improve the suggested dimensionality in the image.

The iconic forms lack the suggestion of perspective, which if applied to the face or panel could provide more visual interest and reinforce the suggestion of a real object or setting.

Content Intention

The basic concept of the illustration is to suggest a speech occurring in an elevator by creating an iconic form integrating the word speech in an elevator panel containing the reflection of a face. Elements of the elevator panel are to align with the face form to suggest insight.

Content Analysis

There are errors in the illustration that affect the narrative being communicated.
1) The button that is surrounded by the mouth is the “close doors” symbol. This metaphorically suggests that the speech is closing doors rather than opening them. 2) None of the buttons are lit up. This suggests that the speech is taking it’s speaker nowhere, a distinct lack of implied action.  3) The two “E” elevator buttons appear to be the same floor. There should be a difference between the two. Aligning an elevator button to the position of an eye on the face would bring life to the concept. Correcting these content issues will clarify the storyline and add some visual interest as well.

Context Intention

The illustration will appear as a partial-page illustration, inset in a web article. The background color of the site is a warm grey. The image should be quickly identifiable and draw interest to the article subject while drawing a viewers interest. The new revised image must come before the original in order to be the indexing image on Google and social network sites.

Context Analysis

Although the overall cool blue-grey differs from the background in hue, it is similar in value and chroma resulting in a loss of contrast. Additional contrast and alternative color additions would increase visibility. The odd conspicuous nature of perspective would aid in distinguishing the illustration from its setting within the page layout.

Revised illustration. © 2014 Don Arday.

Original illustration. © 2014 Don Arday.