Graphic Design / Interactive Design / Fine & Applied Arts / Parkland College

GDS 273/274 Illustration I & II
Project 9: Step-by-Step Instruction Illustrations


Instructor: Liza Wynette


To develop rendering skills. To translate verbal ideas into clear, accurate images. To apply composition and illustration skills to real-world visual communication problems.

Secondary Objective

To utilize the Adobe Creative Suite as an illustration and production tool.


Create a series of illustrations for an instruction sheet that show how to perform a simple action (such as how to open a safety cap or or changing the battery in a small electronic device). You will photograph this action and use the photos as source material, so the action needs to be something that can be done on a table top. The action will be the student’s choice (pending approval of the instructors). Your client is the manufacturer of the product.

The specifications of the project are:

  • the illustrations must clearly illustrate the action depicted
  • each illustration must fit into a three-inch square panel
  • the series must consist of at least three, but no more than six panels
  • each panel must be accompanied by explanatory copy
  • the illustrations will be reproduced in 4-color process  

Your final design must show an understanding of unity, emphasis and balance. When appropriate, utilize rhythm and depth as well.


1. Research for inspiration: Research existing illustrations. Look at instruction manuals, as well as “how to” books. Also look at assembly instructions from companies such as Ikea. Scan your favorite examples and publish your research on your personal process page for critique (be sure to caption each image and cite the source). Be prepared to explain why these examples are successful. 

2. Marketing research: Decide which action you will illustrate. Divide the action into steps. Write a memo describing your choice and how you decided to divide it up into steps (see sample ). Publish your brief on your process page. Have your brief reviewed by the Writing Lab, then email your brief as an attached Word file or a shared Google Doc to (instructions).

3. Take reference photos: Photograph each step. Pay close attention to lighting and composition. You will use these photographs as reference or source images, either drawing freehand or tracing them. Edit your photos down to the best ones and publish a low-res PDF (instructions) linked from your Process Page for critique.

4. Develop the concept: In your sketchbook begin to conceptualize ideas for this project (see examples of sketches). Make at least 10 sketches of all possible directions you might take this project. Edit your concepts down to your best three ideas and redraw them on 8.5 x 11 white paper using a felt tip pen. Scan (scale/crop in Photoshop: no wider than 1000 pixels), increase the contrast (see tutorial) and publish your concepts on your personal Process Page for critique. Be prepared to discuss how your design fulfills the client's marketing objectives. Also print your sketches for your Process Book.

5. Proof: Based on the critique of the above, use the computer to execute at least two versions of your best idea (present at least one proof with an alternate font choice). Publish one multi-page low-res PDF (instructions) linked from your Process Page for critique. Be prepared to talk about what design principles are utilized in your design. Also print a high-quality color proof for your Process Book.

6. Final critique: Based on the critique of the above, revise your design (if needed), then print a final proof on 11x17 paper for critique (see printing tips). Prepare a presentation to justify your design decisions. Also publish one multi-page high-res PDF (instructions) on your personal Process Page.

7. Grading: Based on the critique above, refine your design (if needed). Submit two copies of your work for grading. One proof will be returned to you after grading. File the graded proof in your Process Book for individual review along with all the preliminary work you did for the project (research, brief, sketches, preliminary proofs, final proof). Review your Process Page and make sure you have an accurate record of your process. Also submit one multi-page high-res PDF (instructions) via Cobra's dropbox. You will not receive full credit for this project if any of the above elements are missing.  

8. Portfolio preparation: If you are happy with the results of this project, consider including it in your portfolio. If necessary, continue to make refinements until you are 100% satisfied with the project. Be sure to back-up all your files for future editing.

9. Extra credit: Submit your project into next year's student show by printing an art gallery quality proof and mounting it on foam board. Also prepare an archival quality JPEG (see example) (1000px wide, no larger than 200K) and submit your project using the online entry form at Your project may win a cash prize and be published in a showcase of student work on Parkland's website.

Last updated: 8/11/17 ■ Webmaster: Paul Young