Course: ‘Applying Visual Thinking through Metaphors’

Metaphors Sandra Staufer

I’m happy to share that I’ve obtained a new certification: "Visual Thinking through metaphors without resorting to clichés" from Dario Paniagua!

Visual metaphors create miniature narratives that deeply resonate with the audience. They go beyond merely describing situations, instead, they analyse and dynamically transform them.

Looking back

In the past, I may have touched on skills, by attempting to create metaphors, and visuals that work hard, possibly coming across as a little absurd to draw attention. But sometimes I just drew icons - ok as part of a user interface but not to communicate a story.

Nice icons...


A nice pretty story but nothing unexpected...


New approach

Experimentation is valuable, and learning from past experiences is essential for refining a communication style. The task at hand involves incorporating this approach into my workflow: To not think clichés to try to be clever with my images and steer clear of clichés and to infuse creativity into my visuals. Upon reviewing some of my past work, I recognise the potential for enhancement, and I am enthusiastic about the prospect.

Before initiating any project, I now engage in thorough, thought-provoking contemplation, pondering whether I can employ metaphors instead of opting for the straightforward and apparent: "Could I do this with a metaphor rather than just drawing the obvious"? Let me think....


Visual metaphors that help drive attention and tickle a smile...


Going forward

Going forward, let me tell the stories cleverly, with intelligence - to grab attention and to convey a message, to help create memorable images that tickle the audience, invite a smirk or make us think.

The course has been transformative.


The course

The course outlined clear strategic tools which help in this process. So that we don't fall into the habit of simply producing icons, because we can.

We learnt of so many illustrators who do this so skillfully,, as an example, to just name one. These magicians are becoming real heroes to aspire to. The charme in employing illustrations lies in our ability to craft a narrative through the use of visual metaphors.

The personal engagement I received on its course is admirable. I felt supported in my progress. There is a community you can be part of, encouriging you to ask questions and submit homework.

This course will suit illustrators, graphic recorders and even artists. It is a worthwhile investment, especially now that AI is at our heels - important to find ways to create visuals without resorting to clichés.

I have started a journey that will take me years to perfect.

Here is the link if you are interested: LEARN VISUAL THINKING THROUGH METAPHORS * avoiding clichés -


Corporate presentations with the aim to tickle emotions

A personalised flyer or a PDF Brochure, which is bespoke, specific to your organisation AND tells your story will stay in people's minds.

When I attend a networking event and I dish out my little personalised postcards with some illustrations on them, I often get comments like "Oh that's nice", or "Oh, I will keep this as a bookmark". Why is that? Because my personalised business cards are hand-drawn and personal and they look colourful.

A nice design will create interest, but bespoke illustrations will make a real impact!

First impressions are really important when you meet a potential audience.

It will help your audience feel valued and respected. They will remember your organisation.


An example

Recently I was asked by Together Co., a Loneliness Charity if I could help them improve their presentation materials. The organisation is dedicated to connecting volunteers with individuals in need of companionship and support. By becoming a volunteer, you can help combat loneliness and isolation while fostering meaningful relationships.

One of the first areas they needed my support was to make their corporate partnership deck into a document that they could send to companies who are interested in working with them; they would then use some of the key messages and design on their website too. This is quite a bold step, and I was very pleased to accept the project. We get innodated with marketing materials and having something that looks slightly different could be very effective.

The illustration needed to be emotive and engage with the audience, warm the heart. I used the corporate colours from their branding guidelines as well as some of their visual asset.


The outcome

The outcome is a PDF presentation that shows personality. It reflects 'care' and invites the audience to read it. The amount of content is balanced with bespoke illustrations and is very digestible.

The documents are set up so we have control over the design and can amend and create a new PDF within a day.

AI make come for us. I wonder if it will be able to capture an organisation's brand, they story, their objectives whilst creating an emotive illustration that warms the heart. We will see.

About TogetherCo

"Are you tired of feeling isolated during the pandemic? Do you miss the social connections you used to have? Look no further than TogetherCo! Our community platform connects you with like-minded individuals for virtual chats, games, and activities. Say goodbye to loneliness and hello to new friendships. Join Togetherco today!"

"Looking for a way to make a positive impact on your community? Consider joining Together Co, where we believe that small actions can make a big difference. Our team is dedicated to helping people connect with others and build meaningful relationships. By volunteering with us, you can help combat loneliness and isolation while making new friends and having fun. Join us in making the world a brighter place, one small step at a time."

Brighton Chamber of Commerce

A hand-drawn map can add a personal touch to an event - and reflect your branding.

Maps have long been the purview of the field of illustration, from imaginative maps illustrating fantastical journeys, to informative maps that guide tourists through their destinations.

A map can be filled with characteristics of a place and details to represent an area. They can access elements of storytelling.

This may look like a challenge but it is such a nice project to undertake as you can pull out certain key areas, portrays the overall 'feel of the place and adds a sense of humour to really tell a story about your event. This can create a real mood.

It is a free license to make a map less boring, more informative and assure it fits in with your organisation's visual comms.

A hand-drawn map may not be completely accurate in terms of distances and locations, but with an exciting composition, it can create a quick impact and highlight the atmosphere of the location or of your event.

Large type, hand-written titles and fun icons are a big trend right now.

A personalised map can explain a complex process too..

A visual map is an effective tool to illustrate a process or thinking path. It can be a step-by-step guide through a complex process using visual assets.

SHL5_Rural Sanitation & Climate Change_Book_Map_VN08_DELIVERED-01

Custom-made maps, be that a process map or a location map,  show that you are thinking of the user-experience. 

Taking the time to commission a hand-drawn map for your website or brochure shows the audience that you care about details. It is just so personal, aesthetically pleasing and fun.

A good brief is essential to ascertain what you want to highlight and which key areas, points of interest or buildings are taking centre stage. Outlining the process in sketches is critical before starting an intricate process map. Providing your branding guidelines with the brief is key so that your new map fits in well on all of your marketing materials.

Looking back at some old (art)work helps you take your next steps in developing your own style.

Brighton Illustrator
©sandrastaufer 'The Cows" 1994

It's nice to see drawings you did when you were younger because you can see how uninhibited the work was, how you experimented with different styles and media.

Last week helped my mentee put together a portfolio. She is trying to get a place on a prop-making course and I helped her evaluate what her best work is - and how she can develop further some of the work she already has. I helped her identify her style and a path forward to show her brand identity as an artist. (here a link to some tips)

This encouraged me to look back into my old portfolio, some of it dating back decades. Choosing just 10 pieces for her portfolio is hard, but how would that feel for my own, if I had to do this exercise?

I distinctly remembered some artwork, others I completely forgot about, like this one - 'the cows'. Of course, this activity can cause apprehension; when I first looked at some of my old artwork I wasn't impressed. But it helped me see my growth. It's so nice to see drawings you did when you were younger because you can see how uninhibited the work was, how you experimented with different styles and methods. I love seeing my hand-drawn stuff and comparing it to my digital work. On one hand, it is nice to see how far I have come in terms of finding my style but some of it is also surprising, seeing how your current style actually developed very early on.

As a serious illustrator you have to continually look back at work short-term and in a large retrospective view too to review the journey you have made. I am quite good at throwing out old sketches or work that wasn't personal to me. At this point, I am very happy that I had not abandoned all of my old artwork, tossed it out, or completely destroyed it because now, I have a trail back to that time to see where my style developed from and why. It's a little bit like my own art history. You are a critic too and you constantly are analysing what has gone wrong and right with a body of work and what to do about it.

Of course, I often ask myself why my style has developed the way it has, and that is why this retrospective is so revealing. I feel I almost couldn't help but go down the route my hand took me. I may have had heroes and influencers that pulled me in a direction, but I feel looking back now, there were early signs of my style developing the way it has.

Your work gets judged by others on a daily basis, being your own judge feels just as important, because it helps you move forward and make decisions about your direction. You also realise that the path you took to your style is not coincidental, but there is the reason behind it.

It's critical to stay innovative, of course, and just doing the same thing isn't right (and boring too), but I do think keeping to a style you have developed over the years that identifies as you and is comfortable, is really important. I will also take on the challenge I mentioned to my mentee and rework some of the artwork I did 30 years ago. Why not?

Businesses from across the board are now recognising the true power of illustration to establish engaging products and services and to deliver their message in a universally appealing way.

Illustrations help organisations to build a strong brand image, one that connects subliminally with target audience, and businesses from across the board are now recognising the true power of illustration to establish engaging products and services, and to deliver their message in a universally appealing way.

Design blogger Gabby Araujo puts it poetically when she describes how a visual element ‘can blend a metaphor of your product benefits within real-world scenarios’.

I’d take this one step further though by claiming that well-thought-out, bespoke illustrations can make tricky or sensitive subjects accessible and truly personalise the customer experience.

Some good examples

Cloud-based payroll company Gusto, for example, has a doodle-rich platform that helps users to onboard, pay, insure, and support their team, in a way that is both approachable and fun; targeted illustrations enable customers to construct a mental image of themselves actually using the product. Communications platform Intercom uses illustrations on advertisements and blog posts to provide users with an idea of what its products do before they engage by clicking on a link.

Both firms employ playful, bespoke illustration styles - in contrast to stock image styles- to successfully build an inviting and ultimately memorable brand experience.

Illustrations bring a human touch that can connect us viscerally with a product or service.

This is why so many organisations - not just tech giants - are choosing to use visual elements to personalise what they offer, to help them build successful brands with unique personalities.

YouTube now populates its landing pages with doodles as well as copy, ensuring its onboarding process remains distinct among other video-sharing platforms.

Embracing the storytelling ability of illustrations, means that marketing automation platforms Mailchimp uses abstract digital illustration styles to put across its brand image. “When pictures and graphic design are not enough, illustration can work magic not only by filling a visual gap, but also connecting words and intent at the same time,” says Franz Lang, one of the artists who illustrated Mailchimp's recent rebrand

Digital illustrations personalise what organisations have to offer: they inspire users to take action and make their experience remarkable. In an increasingly digitised world, they remind us that businesses are run by people - real humans, like us, with real thoughts and feelings.

If you're interested in learning more, call me and we can have a chat.

The e-cargo bikes may have changed but the branding remains the same for FareShare Sussex zero-energy Brighton food distribution project

The UK's wholesale food industry is warning this week that it will no longer be able to protect consumers from price rises but about by soaring transportation costs and and problems attracting new workers. It is reassuring to know then that grassroots organisation FareShare Sussex is working ever harder to ensure that food that might ordinarily go to waste is being redirected to people who really need it.

Creating a memorable identity

Clean, green brand identity for FareShare Sussex's zero-emission e-cargo bike

Shows the organisation's relevance and sustainability credentials

Talks directly to the target audience and the wider community

Illustration for Fareshare Sussex by Sandra Staufer
Illustration for FareShare Sussex's e-bike by @sandrastaufer.

Interestingly though, this effective, successful and award-winning food charity is not one to sit on it laurels. In July 2020, FareShare Sussex embarked on a three-year project, funded by circular economy charity WRAP, to use environmentally friendly transport solutions to increase its ability to redistribute surplus food. In the main, this project is proving a great success: introduction of an electric van, for example, has saved £1,8000 on annual transport costs and 4,800kg of direct carbon dioxide emissions. The introduction of a pioneering temperature-controlled e-cargo bike, on the other hand, wasn't quite as successful.

Whether or not Einstein actually uttered the words 'failure is success in progress' is open to debate, but whoever did so had a point, as we never really know how well something works until we actually try it out. And if something doesn't quite cut the mustard first time around, chances are that a reflectively modified, better-thought-out version will be both more efficient and better suited to its desired function than any prototype.

And so this has proved to be the case with FareShare Sussex's zero-emission refrigerated e-cargo bike, which proved unsuitable - too heavy and under-powered, for Brighton's hilly city landscape. Since June 2020, however, FareShare Sussex has been piloting two new lighter-weight and more powerful electric vehicles, with great success.

One aspect of the FareShare Sussex project which proved spot-on first time around, however, is its playful green and white branding. Last year, I collaborated with local graphic designer Richard Excell, of Excell Design together with Hove-based advertising products supplier TJ's Branding Solutions to produce the e-bike's temperature controlled unit's exterior wrap, with its clean-lined graphics and fresh, original illustrations of 'dancing' fruit and vegetables.

As a committed eco-enthusiast and self-builder, I was thrilled to learn that my design would be part of this innovative community project. I have very strong views on both food waste and food poverty and immediately recognised the importance of the work FareShare Sussex does. Some 3.6 million tonnes of good food is wasted by the UK food industry every year, while millions of people are struggling to afford to eat.

FareShare Sussex addresses both these issues by redistributing food industry surplus - food which would otherwise be wasted - to the people who need it most. It provides food to charities and groups that deliver additional services such as advice and guidance, health support, counselling and befriending, and using food as a vehicle for good above and beyond alleviating hunger.

From the outset, FareShare Sussex wanted its new bike to look the part, with its vehicle branding reflecting its function as well as advertising its superlative environmental credentials. As well as showing people what FareShare Sussex does, and how it does it, the bespoke illustrations used in the e-cargo bike branding have helped to create a memorable identity and invite wider involvement in the work of FareShare Sussex. They have helped to instill trust and to build on the organisations' accessibility, community relevance and sustainability credentials.

It seems apt somehow that a four-wheeled zero-emission e-cargo vehicle is now part of a virtuous circle that's actively helping break the cycle of food poverty across the county.


If you're interesting in learning more about FareShare Sussex, contact development manager Kelly Dibbert here

Want to make an impact with a super-sensitive - or deadly dull - message? Here’s how and why it pays to be quick on the draw….

When it comes to developing marketing materials for sensitive subjects such as personal hygiene, sex or potentially embarrassing health problems, it’s all too common for creatives to find themselves staring out of the window, not knowing where to focus their gaze, never mind where to start.

It’s these tricky topics, together with dull or ‘dry’ factual content, that require the most ingenuity in terms of creative input. Sadly though, there’s no marketing-with-sensitivity handbook out there explaining how we should handle potentially awkward or yawn-inducing marketing matter. There are, however, approaches we can adopt and adapt in order to maximise audience reach, without compromising a topic’s gravity, causing extreme embarrassment, or sending someone to sleep.

Illustrations for a sensitive subject - where a photo won't do!

With a carefully crafted illustration, a sensitive topic can be presented creatively and with dignity.

Delivering the message with ingenuity

... and brevity.

For blog
Illustration for Sanitation Learning Hub by @sandrastaufer.

Good illustrations can persuade, inform and influence subliminally; showing rather than explaining, enhancing a marketing message by genuinely engaging audience emotions.

Delivery is everything when it comes to both super-sensitive and super-boring topics. How we say something is almost as important as what we say. And as we might not know exactly who will be looking at our content, we cannot predict the potential fallout from the narrative we deliver. We can, however, communicate our message in a way that maintains audience dignity.

And while long-form written content is certainly valuable in some areas of marketing, the antithesis is true for both highly sensitive and deadly dull topics, where brevity is always the best approach. We need to cut out any potentially patronising waffle and get straight to the point.

Content must never accuse or overwhelm, but rather show our audience what we can do to help them, by delivering facts in a comforting way. This is where well-considered and well-drawn illustrations can do the hard work, enabling us to take ownership of our message while at the same time creating immediate audience impact.

The most important thing we must do though when delivering information is to tell the truth, and this is where good illustration really comes into its own. Sensitive bespoke graphics can help organisations appear friendly and trustworthy, while at the same time communicating a marketing message in a more visceral, organic way than even the best-chosen words or photographs.

In the same way that picture books hold the attention of young children, helping them to move the narrative forward without adult assistance, good illustrations and animation can persuade, inform and influence subliminally; showing rather than explaining, enhancing a marketing message by genuinely engaging audience emotions.

Creating a personalised, impactful hero image for your website can really help the online presence and engagement - and hence help with conversion. It also talks to the audience directly.

Illustration website hero by Sandra Staufer for Housing Association

Your website is your most powerful marketing tool. And one of the first thing website visitors see is your hero image. It is a specific type of website banner, quite large and often impactful and even animated. It grabs the audience's attention and reflects your brand messages.

A good hero image offers a glimpse of what your business offers. It is at the top of your homepage and takes valuable real estate on your website. A powerful, warm and impactful hero image brings your homepage to life.

An impactful hero image can boost your conversion rates and impress your users.

The way your website is designed directly influences how a user feels about the site's brand. A meaningful, distinctive hero image, that has been aligned to your branding, can help to establish trust among new visitors and even convert them into customers.

It takes 50 milliseconds for users to form an opinion about a website. That’s why you need to make sure that your site is delightful. Using a hero image is a good way to ensure users can identify with your brand values and a positive online experience.

An example

A hero graphic full of hope to provide core branding for the 2021 Brighton Fringe marketing campaign

illustration by sandra staufer


After 2020’s cancellation of the Brighton Festival and Fringe because of Covid-19, the world-famous Brighton Fringe Festival needed an engaging hero image to communicate that the festival is still as active and the organisation as creative as ever.

The requirements

Stepping away from its usual brochure-led branding, Brighton Fringe was on the hunt for an artist, to produce an engaging hero panel for digital platforms for its 2021 event. The hero image will be the 'shop window' for the organisation.


Using a consistent brand identity for each year is critical for a good marketing campaign to help sell tickets. The audience will remember an impactful graphic and identity if with the organisation. It excites and engages.

Key benefits of a successful hero graphic


  • Builds a strong digital brand
  • Entertains, excites and engages people from all backgrounds and age group
  • Reflects well, sits comfortably with, and boosts main event branding
  • Improves an event’s online presence and raises awareness of its artistic range
  • Provides a successful shop window for an invent, boosting ticket sales

The 'About us' page is one of the most visited pages on a website. Your customers want to know whom they are dealing with, what your story is. So it has to be a good one!


Don't miss the opportunity to show off your company to your visitors. Use this precious piece of website real estate to establish credibility and build trust.

The 'About us' page helps evaluate things like the size of your company, mission and vision, core values of the company, how your business came to be where it is today, but most and for all who runs the company. How you come across on that page is important for your brand. This page should be communicating more than just about your services, it should tell YOUR story and introduce your staff members, their titles and contact details. People love stories, and they are usually paying for the story rather than the product, so your 'About us' page should revolve around your story. Then make it easy for the user and offer 'good call to actions'.

Illustration by Sandra Staufer

The About us / team page is a good place to introduce yourself and to show off a bit of personality.
Potential customers want to see behind the curtain and whom they’re dealing with, so it’s important to include pictures - or illustrations! But don’t just slap some old low res staff pictures on there that have no visual language and are poor quality. The pictures you choose are meant to build trust. Invest a little time on planning this page and make it special. You could use team photos too on this page or individual photos as this adds credibility.

But how can you make this a little different?
A personalised avatar is the best way to show some individuality and creativity. This will stick in people's minds and hearts.

You could even switch between photos an illustration occasionally but make sure you use a reputable photographer like @LaurenPsyk to get these done professionally. And don't mix and match!

Creating the right avatar to represent a person's brand may be quite a challenge, as it is so personal and long-lasting. But an 'About us' page with a difference will definitely help you stand out.

Below you can find some examples of styles for your avatars:
Energise your business in 2020 . Illustartion by @sandratsuafer for @headsupcoaching
Final illustration for 'Energise your business in 2020' coaching event for Heads-up Coaching

Bespoke illustrations are a powerful tool for audience engagement and setting friendly emotional bonds with potential customers.

Creating an illustration for an event promotion

I have been working as an illustrator for Lyndsey Segal from Heads-up Coaching for over a year. I have helped her with the online brand identity for her coaching business and workshops to make her events stand out.

Above is my latest illustration for this event:

'Energise your business in 2020'. If you’re looking for a fresh and dynamic way to promote and grow your business in 2020 – then this event is for you!

I have attended a few of her coaching & networking sessions and I have improved my business plan and learnt how to set realistic goals. I have also become better at networking and self-promotion, which doesn't come easy as an illustrator.

So how do I manage the process for an event illustration like this?

Most importantly, I ask for a good brief, which outlines:

  • the audience (and how to communicate with them)
  • explains clearly the message I need to convey
  • identifies the format and output (where the illustration will feature), quality and print process
  • and outlines, if the illustration requires adaption to a simplified version.

To help me understand exactly what the message is, I will ask many questions and request examples. This will save me time in the long run. Some clients, like Lyndsey, are good at writing briefs - and I love that! I will need that brief to test the final illustration against it.

Draft illustration for 'Energise your business in 2020' coaching event

If a client comes to me, they will have seen my style and will have chosen me on that premise. I have a clear style which is hand-drawn on an iPad, with strong black outlines and filled in with graphical areas of colour. Some of my illustrations are 'flatter' and more graphical than others, some incorporate more shading and layers. Being a graphic designer leads me to a graphical style. [Example portfolio here]. I have remained true to one style and have always hoped that the client will buy into this. I may adapt my style of drawing to each individual client slightly, to give it that personality. My ambition is to create a set of illustration, which represent the client's brand identity and makes their content stand out.

Heads-up Coaching like a strong, bright palette with vibrant and warm colours. I try to maintain this as a visual element throughout all of the illustrations. I use layers of shades and dots to identify the sequential narrative.

I sketch first to outline the ambition and to achieve a clear vision of where I am heading

The beauty of illustration is that an image is able to illustrate the unreal. Illustration is powerful, it can communicate a message, tone and personality in a way words cannot.

We can be creative with our story-telling and 'make-up' new realities. I love that. The illustration can be very specific and describe the content precisely within its own context. Illustrations are the visuals, drawings or work of art that explain, clarify, illuminate, visually represent and enhance a text. With the right tone of voice in an illustration, we can create a certain mood.

Sketching ideas first is definitely the right way forward as illustration is time-consuming. The client will pay for the end-product, not the process, so having a good sketch approach helps streamline this process.

I often start with some research and try to find some metaphors to see if I can create a certain twist telling the story. I sketch for a while and only later decide which path I am going to take, working into more detail with the help of the client who understands the message. It is so important to experiment every time and tell your own story.

Knowing the format and the output quality

From the outset, I will make sure I have the right format before I start. Essential! (proportions, quality, uses, colour palettes etc.)

What will I delivery?

I discuss early what I will be producing / delivering. Here is an example:

  • 2 sketches to visualise the direction. This shows I have understood the brief. This may be a sign-off stage
  • 1 piece artwork, including 2 rounds of amends
  • 1 print-ready artwork e.g. JPG, EPS or PDF.

Asking for feedback early

It is essential to involve the client early to establish if the right direction has been met and if the content is being communicated accurately. Iterations are time-consuming.

I make sure I understand the narrative and message from the outset, which is then reflected in my sketches. [I could do better on that one...]

Checking the final product against the brief. Checking the quality

The feedback from the client and checks against the brief defines if the project has been successful. For me, the benchmark is also 'portfolio': Will it make it into my top 10s? That's important. Can I put my name to it? Not always easy, in a commercial environment, but important to have integrity as it will affect my brand.

I always make sure the artwork is signed off. If after delivery, the illustrations end up within a page-spread and don't fit, the client may come back and ask for amends. Happy to do this, but if it is outside of the brief, I may have to charge more as this will be extra work. I ask the client to consider this at outset to avoid surprises.

Visual consistency for product illustrations

If I am lucky to have landed a series of illustrations, I make sure to note down document set up, colour palette, pen sizes and pen flow. I do this via Adobe Creative Cloud libraries e.g. for swatches and patterns. I also take screenshots of my Ipad Adobe Draw pen setups and leave these within a layer of the projects. This helps with the consistency of visual language for each project, as I may want to vary your style slightly for each client.

Signing the work

Once the illustration is signed off and I am happy with it, I have to put my name to it and make sure I add copyright. See information here

I ask the client to give me a Google review or write a testimonial. I then share, if the client has allowed this. This will help with my pipeline. Shortly after I will ask the client of forthcoming projects to schedule this in.

I love working on events promotion illustrations. They are always new and different and carry so much hope. So much work goes into event preparation and hence this is deserving of quality, bespoke and tailored promotion.

It's nice that I have found a client in Heads-up Coaching who see priority in an illustration and not just a nice to have. Illustration in context can add richness to their story and help promote their events.


Interesting reference: '

'Introducing illustration in your product' by Irene Falgueras


Some examples


“Sandra is incredibly professional and possesses an extensive range of design skills, knowledge and expertise. I highly recommend her.”

Sandra has produced a wide range of bespoke illustrations for a series of events, workshops, blog posts and my website for my business coaching business.

These have helped me to create a unique brand identity and stand out from my competitors.

Sandra is able to take a brief and swiftly create illustrations that bring a variety of business topics to life, communicating their messages clearly and distinctively.

Lyndsey Segal, Heads-up Coaching