2D IllustrationAnimationCharacter Design

Get Out of My Head, Cartoon Characters: Finally Free from Designing

Story Highlights
  • Create a top-notch design brief to guide you.
  • Get a lasting impression by putting the customer first.

“First I saw the Minion win – now kiddies running after a cereal – what’s next in the puzzle? Maybe after that, I can design again.”

Are Minions really that appealing to a kid? The Nutrition Journal confirmed it’s true. The parents’ mindsets didn’t share the same level of optimism.

Yet, we wouldn’t believe a Minion character would appear on a grocery list. More like this:

(Source: Pinterest)

Parents weighed obesity, but kids looked at the cuteness. Their favorite part was the character’s colors and silly shape. So one way to understand how cartoons influence kids is to look at strategy.

Let’s get into character designs, us and marketers

Characters embody the traits of humans, animals, or objects, according to Educalingo. These include the following:

  • Storytelling

  • Narrating

  • Plotting

Creating several versions of the character concept is part of the process. The same applies to animation as well. This process helps you reveal:

  • Ideal age

  • Role

  • Challenges

  • Solutions

Educalingo says businesses use this practice to boost their brand. But there is a drawback: the guideline limits the drawing to only two to three characters. This makes them fall in love with the characters, leading to a sale.

Thus people, not cartoon characters, are the magic formula. That means clever marketing tricks influence people. Isn’t that something else?

But the problem is that some designers create hasty, sweaty characters. This makes me shout out loud with a megaphone, calling all near and far:

Pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase, no more sweaty, rushed character designs…

Please GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

(Source: Giphy)

Cos’ if ya focus on finishing the design, you won’t attract sales. Or a returning customer. Something to think about. Freach even said:

“Character research stimulates new ideas”

And even after Freach’s remark, some designers still prefer to…

  • Avoid the benefits of extra research.

  • Design now, analyze later…way later.

I had a lightbulb moment. It seems some designers don’t like gorgeous-looking characters. Is it then that they enjoy creating useless characters…?

Something’s not right here…🙃

As this leads to useless and dusty character designs. The graphic design field is no different, says Thomas:

  • 12.1% of respondents believed that a company could work without a graphic designer
  • 34.5% saw the theory as neutral

  • 6.9% strongly agreed

Even more jaw-dropping, 45.6% of respondents felt neutral about working with a graphic designer one day.

IEEE Xplore tells the story way better:

“The establishment of these traits in character design is one of the most important factors in the process of successful storytelling in any comic book, graphic novel, storyboard or animated feature.”

Creating characters with incomplete information yields nothing. Same for the customer as well. Yet, revision requests keep coming in…

I’ve been there…so I know.

It’s a lose-lose scenario.

In Google Drive, at least the design collects some binary dust. Well, at least you can add it to your portfolio.

What techniques can you use to develop useful characters? So our next design (and later) will have a lot of value.

Experimenters report:

“For this reason, tools that could abstract character design rules from finished art would be really useful to the expert character designer of this industry. It would also be helpful to novice users for picking up better drawing skills.”


The design team focuses on the delivery of the character design, not the process. But to make sure the customer understands why there is a design rule, we ask questions like:

  • What’s the benefit to the customer?

  • What does the customer see the design rules looking like?

  • Did the customer create their own design rules prior to this project?

  • If so, how did the customer create this design rule?

What’s the value of the character design to the customer? It’s so easy to miss these spectacular details.

Put the customer first and you’ll make more money.

Based on a study published in the Harvard Business Review, Reinartz and Saffert said:

…Finding out which creative aspects influence sales is very important.

For 2023 (and beyond), put the customer first. Put them at the center of everything.

As a rule of thumb, avoid designing random characters for the customer’s project.

Now let’s get into the good stuff: Character Design Documents and literature.

Try the Illustrator’s Guidebook or The Character Designer by 21 Draw. Give em’ a show and watch your customers’ eyes pop. The customer design brief is also a part of this process.

The design brief contains a list of questions connected to the request.

That’s incredible, isn’t it?

A design brief describes the design and final output the client desires.

Journal of Mechanical Design summarized:

“This study sheds light on how design briefs can be crafted to improve the creativity of design outcomes.”
Transitioning from generic to job-oriented designs, two scenarios played out:
  1. Design brief rules.

  2. Gender effects on design brief outcomes.

“To maximize novelty in the early design phases, we suggest that designers or clients consider not including any additional information in the brief. Alternatively, if they need to include supplementary information, they can consider including both contextual information and a physical example together with the brief.”

The findings said you can’t miss it if you talk to customers in their language.

Why is this so significant?

Before continuing to create characters the old way, consider this:

It connects to the customer’s audience’s natural sense of awareness.

Our brains tend to process sentimental information. Prioritizing yourself is part of the self-referential process.

Several studies look at self-prioritization (here, and check out here)

Another study found that customer responsiveness, branding, and pricing influenced customer satisfaction with Mazandaran Cement Co.

How do character design briefs affect the process?

What about the design briefs’ impact on this process?

Get your customer’s needs and challenges in the character design brief.

Putting the customer first makes a difference as it’s customizable to fit their needs.

It’s the kind of service that gets them to reorder.

Create a handy set of character design versions.

This is what Pencil Bee calls the Ultimate Designer Brief (UDB).

Team members and customers get helpful info from the UDB. It’s got a lot of stuff in it, like product documents.

UDB gives team members and customers helpful insights. There’s lots of stuff there, like guidelines and recommendations. The UDB simplifies reuse after a year’s time.

Taking on a character design brief requires you to know these things:

  1. Age

  2. Color of eyes

  3. Color of hair

  4. The physical structure

  5. Personality

  6. Strengths/ Weaknesses

  7. Anxiety habits

  8. Reason for acting

  9. Voice

  10. Interest

  11. Talent and skills

Purpose of the main brief and any other.

The customer’s character design should be based on the design brief. These fall into three groups:

  1. Focusing on the customer’s and the character’s core roles in the brief.

  2. Emotional aspects. Taking the emotions of the customer into consideration creates confidence.

  3. Design briefs based on social perception are useful. How the customer wants others to see their character is key.

Here’s what one of Pencil Bee’s customers requested:

(Source: Pencil Bee- I sent the request on behalf of the customer- note!)

The customer wanted the audience to feel uneasy. Because it emphasizes emotions and curiosity.

This made viewers question the scene because of the unresolved emotions.

Eeeeeeeeevery element aligns with the design brief request.

Here’s what we connected:

Here’s ONE before inking:

Checking the coloring accuracy:

Yep, definitely confirming the shadings:

This now leads me to…

The finished look:

Create a character design that meets the customer’s goals.

Consider multiple versions of the character, and not one. Customers can measure their success that way.

Next time, the customer might want to expand beyond character design into animation. Based on their goals.

Now let’s look at the other drawings:

We convey emotions through colors, settings, and facial expressions in drawings. You can tell something’s gonna happen. Thus, the customer’s goal is met.

The props show there are several ways to deliver results.

  • The walls represent the character’s quest for a cure. The search for answers is something we all can relate to. It’s fun to watch the journey unfold in an unexpected way.

  • Body language suggests the laidback teen might be up to something.

This drawing shows how outcomes can lead to specific results. As humans, we tend to want to accomplish something, so it’s relatable.

How does your customer define successful job completion?

You’ll know what they want when you know their success goals. So create your own design brief that shows how your drawing meets these criteria. They’ll love that.

You can plan your sketch more easily if you know what your customer likes and dislikes.

So… will you swap dusty character designs for something better?

Yu says the customers’ involvement in the design process helps. As it creates an emotional connection with the character.

You won’t go back to old methods if you use character design briefs, like UDB.

If you use certain methods of character design, like UDB, you’ll never go back. It takes focus to create characters.

There’s no waffling here. Decide what your audience loves about the design and broadcast it. It won’t work with random ideas. Define what character design is and isn’t.

My challenge to you, dear reader:

Use a character design brief to think of your next project. Keep your customer in mind. Anything goes whether it’s for entertainment or sales. Creating a winning character starts here.

Maybe it’ll surprise you.


Racquel Porter

Racquel is a 2D animator and illustrator with over 8 years of experience and enjoys research and academia. There have been requests for her to work on some short 2D animation series, like Bird Girl. Join the community and check out her awesome blogs.


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