There are drawings and then there are characters that have made history and remain etched in people’s collective memory. From Batman and Superman to Mikey Mouse and Peter Rabbit, pop culture and the entertainment industry abound with examples of iconic characters that have fascinated past generations and will undoubtedly continue to captivate the hearts and minds of generations to come. If you view the Bitty Pop collection, you’ll surely encounter many popular characters you’ve known since childhood. All these memorable figures started from simple concepts and sketches before they materialized into something bigger.  

At first glance, some of these characters might seem rather basic, from a purely technical perspective, being made up of simple lines, shapes and colors. However, there’s more to character design than putting some art elements together. Any up-and-coming artist can hone their skills and learn to draw beautiful images, but breathing life into a character requires a much more complicated creative process. 

So, if you’re new to the world of graphic design and are currently on a quest to create compelling characters, here’s a short guide that will help you make the magic happen  

Find your sources of inspiration 

Research and study are the main pillars of effective character design. While you can just as easily grab a piece of paper and a pencil and let your imagination flow freely and guide your hands, it’s best to have a solid foundation to begin with. 

So, before you put your ideas on paper, you should do a bit of reading about what character design entails and look for sources of inspiration. The online space is filled with materials that can help you increase your knowledge of character design and spark your creativity. Study the world of famous illustrators, find characters that catch your interest and try to understand what makes them stand out. Or get your inspiration from the world around you. Many of the famous characters in movies and animation were inspired by real people, so the people you meet and interact with can become part of your designs.  

Be authentic 

While it’s important to learn from various sources and research other artists’ creations in search of guidance and inspiration, you shouldn’t make sure external factors don’t influence your work too much. The purpose is to create a unique character that stands out from the rest, not to follow in someone else’s footsteps and copy what they did. 

That’s why it might be a good idea to keep all the references and the illustrations you’ve used as inspiration away while you’re drawing to prevent certain elements from seeping in unknowingly into your designs. You need to develop your own style and that often requires focusing on your inner world and experimenting with different ideas and methods. 

Consider your audience 

Character design is a deeply personal process that should bring joy to you first and foremost. But you also have to take into consideration the people who are going to see your designs and how they might respond to your work.  

After all, if you craft characters for a larger audience, you have to understand their needs and expectations and make sure your work meets their requirements. In other words, you have to create with the end consumer in mind. Even if you are not a professional yet, you need to approach the process as if you are developing a product. 

Put your character into context

Characters don’t exist in a vacuum. They need a universe where they can move, manifest and express their identity. You don’t have to create an entire world with intricate details for your characters, but you do have to imagine a space in which they can reveal themselves.

Whether you develop your character first and then build a world around them, prepare the setting and then introduce the character, or work on both in parallel, that depends on your personal preferences. 

Create a storyline 

Another aspect that will help you shape your character is their story. The narrative behind each character is what gives them purpose and substance, so they don’t float aimlessly in the world. 

Think of your characters as real people who have a past and a life and come up with a storyline starting from the experiences they’ve had so far. You can include details such as their birthplace, events they’ve witnessed or been a part of, family and friends, their hobbies, passions or professions, or any other aspect that might be relevant to who they are. 

Focus on defining features 

Every character should have one or more defining features that dominate their personality and drive their actions. These can be qualities, flaws or simply character traits that stand out. Some characters are stubborn and feisty, some are absent-minded, others are calm and complacent and so on.

It’s also important to give your character a goal or a conflict that can put them into motion and make them react in a certain manner, depending on their personality and temperament. You can send them on an adrenaline-filled adventure, have them fall in love, or go through a life-changing experience – whatever will help bring out their personality. 

Add depth and dimension 

Much too often, characters feel flat and underdeveloped, as if they lack essence. In order to create dynamic and engaging characters that seem to fly off the page or screen, you have to give them depth and dimension, and the secret lies in the details. 

You need to work on your character’s posture, mannerisms, and facial expressions and exaggerate their cardinal traits so you can build a believable personality and make them feel real. Their hair, clothes and accessories can complete the picture and complement their story.  

Bring your characters to life 

These tips can serve as a good starting point as you embark on your character creation journey, but keep in mind that the process looks different for every artist. So, don’t hesitate to experiment and carve your own path in the fascinating world of graphic design. 

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.