Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Illustration Resumes: 5. Form and Appearance

Perhaps the most important consideration for illustrators when it comes to their resume is its appearance. And appearance is where an illustrator’s resume becomes truly distinctive, for we can create an illustrative resume. All aspects of the physical appearance and aesthetics of a resume are about projecting a personality, even the selection of fonts to be used. And any form of visual imagery bears a significant impact on a resume reviewer. As such, the selection and use of any symbols, colors, specialized type treatments, and even paper stocks and background textures have to be used perceptively, but none of these elements needs to be as thoroughly considered as the selection and use of illustrations.

There are three differing viewpoints related to the application of illustrations on a resume. These viewpoints are held not only by resume coaches and advisors, but also by prospective employers. By being aware of these conflicting opinions, it will allow one to consider the most appropriate option when creating a resume for a specific review situation.

Option 1. One extreme option is not to use any kind of image or visual element at all. This opinion is held by many business and human resource people who feel that a resume is strictly a business form and should only contain information. They maintain that illustrations and visual symbols present a visual distraction for a reviewer. Additionally, not being visually educated, these reviewers generally have difficulty understanding the use of an image, or they misinterpret the content or meaning associated with a visual.

Option 2. Another extreme, taking the opposite approach to the former argument, is for an illustration to have a very strong presence on a resume. To essentially use an illustration to alter the purpose of a resume as a document of written qualifications, to place it more in the realm of being a promotional advertisement. This kind of application has pluses and minuses. A plus is that a reviewer will probably be impressed by the resume and remember it. And the minus is the same except the reviewer is negatively impressed by it. Another issue relates to the use of a single illustration, which more than likely is all there will be space for on the resume. A resume could be the first, and with this approach possibly the only credential to be seen by a prospective employer. Reviewers will either like the image, or not. If not, that will be the end of any further interest in an applicant.

Option 3. The moderate approach to the use of illustrations takes into consideration that, in many instances, a resume is the first credential to be seen by a prospective employer, and the main purpose of the resume is to present a person’s job qualifications. As stated in option 2, any illustration used, will leave a strong impression on a reviewer, either positively or negatively. And in the case of a negative one, they will have no interest in viewing a portfolio or granting a personal interview. Therefore, for subscribe to this option, it is vital that an illustration not dominate the information content of a resume. However, if the use of an illustration appears more as an accent or a visual effect this is much less likely to happen. A moderate approach is to have an illustration play a supporting role to the written content of the resume.

© 2013 Don Arday.


When an illustration is incorporated into a resume in nearly every instance it becomes the center of interest. An illustration can be created specifically for a resume, which is preferable, or it can be an image that was created for an assignment and is repurposed for a resume. Either way, it is the first thing a reviewer will look at, and it will spark the first thought and impression with that viewer. This is vastly different than the kind of impression that occurs when a business resume is looked at. For lacking any visual element, it is the organization, i.e., the typographical hierarchy and treatment that becomes the “center of interest”. Any kind of image, even if small in size will draw the eye of a reviewer first.

Illustrative Treatments

Most illustrators think of an illustration as being a picture, with a definitive shape, color scheme, and easily perceivable content. But for a resume, an illustration does not need to be used in its original form. It can be altered or reinterpreted to create a visual effect that will blend with the other elements of a resume more harmoniously. Even if compositionally and tonally an illustration works well visually, the content and meaning of the illustration must be appropriate as well. Not like the true example of a resume with a German storm trooper used as the illustration, it was an attractive use of the image, but none-the-less, left a very negative impression. And no, the applicant wasn’t seeking a position as a storm trooper. Despite this one example, illustrations can be used very effectively to create wonderful resumes.

Illustrations can be used tastefully in many ways. For example: An illustration can be positioned anywhere in the margin around the text; or used as a banner that spans the width of the resume at the top or bottom; applied in the background behind text as a tint or watermark; it can be printed on the back side of the paper, large or small; it can be printed monochromatically; etc.

© 2013 Don Arday.


Symbols and logos can be incorporated into a resume to add personality, design aesthetic, identity, and visual interest. And, the same considerations that apply to illustrations also apply to symbols, for symbols, logos, and icons, can produce as significant a visual effect as an illustration, particularly if the resume is being submitted by an applicant for a job that calls for some design skills. Therefore, it would be prudent to carefully consider the selection and use of symbols or icons on a resume. Although these graphic forms can be strictly decorative in purpose, they function best when they actually communicate something.


A logotype is a symbol that is comprised of letterforms that have been altered and arranged in a customized manner. Good logotypes follow either traditional proportioning and/or visually pleasing aesthetics of letterform construction and anatomy. In other words, an understanding and application of letterform conventions is important. Resume reviewers and particularly designers are acutely aware of inappropriate “bastardizations” of letterforms and the alphabet. So if a logotype is used for purposes of identity on a resume, for the sake of legibility and aesthetics, it should follow letterform conventions to guide its customization.


Logos differ from logotypes in that they are purely pictorial in nature, whether or not they appear more illustrative or more symbol-like. Logos are very personalized visuals that represent a particular individual, company, product, etc. Logos very effectively add an individuality and personality to a resume. When using a logo as a personal identifier and for interest, any symbolism within the logo must be apparent. Illustrators and designers sometimes forget that resume reviewers may not be visually acute. Logos that are too abstract can loose or confuse a viewer. Symbolic abstractions, which communicate as plain as day to an illustrator or designer, may look like a foreign language to a businessperson reviewing a resume.


Icons are visual simplified representations of subjects. Their main purpose is to be used for indexing subjects or categories. Icons can add a very distinctive look, and interest, as well as help organize the categories on a resume. Whereas logos signify unique ideas, icons tend to stand for more general ones, and are likely to have a generic appearance to them. When icons are used in combination with other icons, they should display common visual or design characteristics to be seen as a set. As with logos, it is important for icons not to be too abstract to communicate clearly or serve as an identifier. 

Graphical Treatments

Many resume templates and resume design guides recommend the use of graphical treatments to add emphasis, color, interest, distinctiveness, etc. Graphical treatments are most commonly in the form of lines and rules, borders, boxes, tables, bullets, tint blocks, etc. Although graphical treatments are visual elements, the main purpose for their use is to improve the organization of the textual content on a resume. However, many resume creators tend to use them to make a resume appear to be “designed”, unfortunately these treatments are often used without regard for their true purpose. They can help distinguish the sections on a resume, support the typographical hierarchy, provide an opportunity to add accent color, and much more. Like all of the other visual elements discussed, they hold visual weight and impact, but since graphical treatments do not carry any meaning, it is very important not over use them, and not to use them to make up for deficiencies in the typographical hierarchy. It is rather easy for graphical treatments to dominate the visual appearance of the resume and distract a viewer from comprehending the written content.


Paper stocks and display screen backgrounds have an influence on the readability and aesthetic appeal of a resume. Subtle background tones or even highly contrasting ones can draw a viewer’s attention and assist in how efficiently they can absorb the written content of a resume. Textured paper stocks can also add a pleasing tactile quality and richness to a printed resume. Alternatively, color tones and textures reproduced digitally can project a visual effect of uniqueness and sophistication. All of which will add to the uniqueness and aesthetic appeal of a resume.

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