Draw on illustrations to bolster marketing

How can I make sure the drawings in my marketing presentation communicate as effectively as possible?—T.R.M., vice president of marketing

Drawings are the first language of architecture and construction. They are crucial marketing material for almost every building product. Photography and electronic media are playing an increasing role, but drawing is still the primary tool used to design buildings, analyze and solve construction problems, and communicate contract requirements.

Whereas photography excels at showing a product’s appearance, drawings are usually better at explaining how something works. And by including, omitting, or emphasizing certain portions of a product or system, you can use drawings to simplify complex relationships or to focus the viewer’s attention on selected data. Cutaway or section drawings allow viewers to see inside a construction assembly. And by using elevations, plans, and other drawing views together, you can communicate three-dimensional assemblies on two-dimensional paper.

Notes and dimensions can be used to elaborate on what is shown.

There are several other advantages to using drawings in your marketing communications. Drawings can take less time and money to prepare than a photo shoot. They are easier to modify if products change or need additional interpretation. And, drawings can have more emotional impact than other communication techniques.

There are two general categories of drawings used in building product literature, though they frequently overlap: detail drawings, which show products as they might appear in a set of construction drawings, and presentation drawings, which show a product’s appearance, fabrication, or in-place application.

Detail drawings
As the name implies, detail drawings show your product, or a construction assembly that incorporates your product, in detail, along with dimensions and notes. Many architects will trace a manufacturer’s detail right out of a catalog and into the construction documents. Details should be as clear as possible so that draftsmen can envision your product in their projects and trace or copy them easily.

Resist the temptation to make your details graphically distinctive. Drawings should conform to industry standards. Use a draftsman who understands the drawing conventions used in construction, or refer to publications such as Architectural Graphic Standards by the American Institute of Architects, available from John Wiley and Sons Inc., and Standard Reference Symbols by the Construction Specifications Institute.

Details should generally be reproduced at the same scale throughout a product manual or catalog. This is important because it enables your customer to quickly tell the relative size of one part to another.

In one aluminum window manufacture r’s catalog, for example, product illustrations were reproduced without regard to scale so that each drawing took up the same amount of space on a page. While this created a strong visual appearance, it wreaked havoc on product selection. It made a 2-inch-deep residential window appear stronger and more massive than a 6-inchdeep commercial window.

Presentation drawings
While detail drawings are primarily a resource for draftsmen, presentation drawings serve a wider range of functions. As sales tools, they call attention to product benefits. As educational tools, they simplify and explain complicated construction assemblies. And because they are usually easier to understand than detail drawings, presentation drawings are useful in explaining your product to building owners or maintenance staff who may not be familiar with technical drawings.

A broader range of illustration techniques is acceptable in presentation drawings, including multiple colors, realistic renderings, perspectives, and isometric views showing several faces of an object simultaneously. These types of illustrations are more difficult to draw than typical detail views, so architects don’t usually copy or trace them into construction documents. However, with new photocopying techniques and computer scanning, architects will be more likely to incorporate presentation drawings into construction documents.

CAD systems
While most architectural drawings are still done without computers, you should consider the far reaching impact of computerization when preparing your drawings. If possible, offer your details on computer media to designers who do use computers. The simplest way to do this is to prepare the drawings for your product literature on a computer-aided drafting (CAD) system, and then make the drawings available on computer disk to customers. Assuming that most designers will continue to select details out of your printed literature, make sure your hard-copy drawings have a caption stating the drawing number and the disk it can be found on.

Disks with a collection of product details are fairly inexpensive to produce and distribute, but you should also consider more advanced programs. For example, several publishers offer programs that allow computer users to go through a series of computerized checklists to select or assemble details that meet project requirements.

Because many CAD systems run on MS-DOS (IBM-compatible), Macintosh, or other types of personal computers and work stations, it would be helpful to offer disks in a variety of file formats. If budgetary restraints make this impossible, use the DXF drawing exchange format, which is compatible with most CAD systems.

Go into the field to see what types of drawing methods your customers use. Ask them what types of software would be most useful from your company. Make sure your sales and customer service personnel know how to read construction drawings. They should also have basic drafting or sketching ability. Great artistry is not required. What is required is their willingness to pick up a pencil and make simple sketches of product details or construction situations. It is amazing how much confusion is eliminated when a salesperson and a customer show each other what they mean via a drawing.

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By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1993