Designer Perspective: Icons and Illustrations at the Bell Museum

April 7, 2021
Designer Perspective: Icons and Illustrations at the Bell Museum


Who made this?

I’m Ben Keel, a graphic designer here at G&A. My top priorities on projects are their lasting durability and accessibility, and the clear communication of the stories we’re telling. It’s a fun time whenever I can use my favorite program, Adobe Illustrator, to paint history in a modern light, and I think our work on Bell is a great example.

What’s the work?

The “Minnesota Journeys” exhibit at the Bell Museum is a walk through Minnesota’s natural history, from the birth of the universe to the development of the state’s three distinct biomes. That’s a long journey, with many topics to cover and a variety of ideas to talk about. Generally the size of a sheet of paper, these line drawings formed a universal system that could unify what we were describing with a single look, where possible.

How was it made?

Light sketches were imported to and developed in Adobe Illustrator, with the final output in InDesign. Panel fabrication was done by Design & Production, Inc.

Why did we choose this style?

Unification of the look was the first priority. The exhibit has a lot of bold, clean colors, and the line art adopts those colors while conveying scientific ideas clearly and simply.  I’m experienced with icon design and the pen tool, and working within my strengths allowed me to confidently communicate the right emotion or information quickly. We had lots of things to make — over 100 drawings — so leaning on a clean system that we could execute efficiently with a modern touch was a logical approach.


The style also allows for different levels of detail and character.



Drawings to capture the intricacy of scientific tools and concepts

Powerful telescopes help to see far into outer space, and these drawings needed to accurately reflect the look of these important observational instruments. Line thicknesses vary in the individual drawings, adding details that make it closer to a simplified photograph that a visitor is more likely to recognize. This additional detail would be out of place for more generic concepts.

Importing reference photos allowed me to trace the real structures, refine the details, and work efficiently.

Drawings to demonstrate the diversity of life – iconically!

This is a tree demonstrating different categories of life forms and how deep their shared ancestry runs. Simplifying the different life forms into icons unified the dense set of information. The icons were made all at once, taking half a circle from an arthropoda and creating a matching tentacle on a mollusca, or giving the frog the same mouth as the fish. Keeping curves circular and lines straight is what gave each icon a similar look to its neighbor.