Tokyo Illustrators Society

Japan's professional organization for illustration publishes decades of creativity online.

Tokyo Illustrators Society (TIS) is Japan’s most influential professional association for illustration, counting the country’s most beloved illustrators among its 213 members. Through exhibitions, competitions, publications and conferences, TIS has promoted the talents of its membership and lead the professional community in an ongoing dialogue on the future of illustration since 1988.

In recent years, TIS members grew frustrated that their online presence was not reflective of their healthy offline activities. Online, TIS was struggling to stand out among a vast new crop of creative industry websites aimed at illustrators and art directors looking for visual inspiration and fresh talent.

Their membership was sitting on a Mt. Fuji of creative work, but their existing website lacked the right structure and system to present it all. So in 2009, TIS called on AQ to redesign both its website and content management system (CMS).

We began our work with several rounds of interviews with illustrators and their clients, to learn their work habits, frustrations and ambitions. We discovered that TIS members were eager to refresh their online portfolios, needed precise control over how their work was presented, but didn’t have the tech savvy to manipulate cryptic or complex interfaces. Prospective clients wanted to see recent work that matched the style and theme of the project at hand.

Based on these conversations, we designed a website that achieves a few important goals:

Encourage frequent updates with high quality content: To achieve this, we designed a content management system with helpful guidance directly in the interface and handy tools like drag-and-drop image reordering, cropping controls, and page preview. Members are also encouraged by customized email reports on who is viewing their work, which pieces are most popular, and how to get even more from their site. In just the first few months, illustrators uploaded over 2000 images. Our redesign doubled the number of visitors to the site, and increased the average time they browsed work by 50%.

Bring ideas to the surface: The new home page balances fresh work, news, and classics in a flexible layout that fills the user’s screen with illustration. Prospective clients can search member portfolios by a carefully chosen keyword list that reflects how they talk about illustration everyday.

Introduce TIS to the rest of the world: The prospect of maintaining an English website is daunting for large Japanese companies, so we understood that a fully bilingual site would be beyond TIS’s resources. By simply translating the website navigation into English, and giving members the option to publish titles and captions in English, we were able to bring TIS’s overseas visitors from a few dozen to several thousand visits a month.

Home page with flexible layout

Illustrator portfolios with keyword filtering

Testing early prototypes in user interviews
Custom Content Management System, developed by The Plant