Imagery is a key part of design whether print or digital. The image usage helps users and viewers relate to the brand, and adds a human element to their experience.
Choosing the correct imagery can be just as important as any of the UX and UI processes, as research shows 70% of users look at imagery before reading text, due to it being more visually pleasing.
This is why it’s important to spend the time required to find the correct imagery for your designs, and not just throw in any placeholder imagery. But that being said, finding this right imagery can often take a very long time, and drain budget and resource very quickly.
Here is a list that I’ve created for what to and what not to look for when trying to find imagery for your designs, which should help shave off some time:
Staged imagery is the absolute worst. It’s fake, and the first impression a user gets from seeing this is that it’s a false message and feels like a scam. This adds anxiety to users whether or not to trust a company, which in the end can cause them to leave and find services elsewhere. To other designers in the industry it also looks lazy: like you’ve used the first image you’ve found, and haven’t put any thought into it.
Key things to look out for to judge if it looks fake or not:
- Are they looking into the camera?
- Are they all smiling at the same time like an unrealistic conversation?
- Does it look like a real conversation?
- Are they sat or perched on something, with their body facing the camera?
- Are they pointing at something with a serious, emotionless face but look like they’re not talking?
- Are other people in the photo holding their chins pretending to be really interested?
Vector illustration art.
If you’re one of these designers who grab quick infographics and cheap vector art illustrations from websites like iStock to place on your design, then you should re-look at your designer skills.
9 Times out of 10 the illustrations don’t match the brand you’re working with, some designs I’ve witnessed in the past don’t even demonstrate what the website means and the message the brands trying to say.
Not only this, but illustration and graphical design should be unique. You don’t see brands like Google or Dropbox using stock vector illustrations, they’re all unique to each brand, and easily recognisable to that brand. Using stock illustrations provides a risk of other brands using the exact same ones, which again makes the designer look lazy.
If you’re going to go down a route of illustration in your designs, then please make it custom and unique, top up your professional designer skills, open up Adobe Illustrator and see what you can come up with – you most likely will enjoy it!
This is pretty much every designers preference. We tell clients all the time about how we want to add a ‘human element’ to their design, or use ‘strong imagery’ that feels ‘realistic’.
This is the most difficult type of imagery to find though, it’s not easy to find imagery that looks like real lifestyle situations. That being said, with the introduction of websites such as Unsplash.com there are recently much more lifestyle shots floating around the web.
Here is a list of what to look for when looking for lifestyle imagery:
- They’re not looking directly into the camera.
- It looks like they’re having a real conversation with each person inputting.
- When they’re pointing at something they’re talking about it, not just stood pointing with a blank face.
- Their bodies should be facing away from the camera, like a lifestyle action shot.
- Are they mid-action? (I.e jumping on a skateboard, half way through putting food in their mouth, mid leap, throwing something in the air…etc)
- Does everyone else in the room look like they want to be there, and not like they’ve just been told to be?
This type of imagery is a fantastic way to add energy to your designs. Capturing a lifestyle-like image when the focus is something mid-action, it adds excitement to what the user is viewing.
Examples of action shots:
Cooking website: mid-action of flour scattering, not just a stock image of someone looking into an oven.
Restaurant website: realistic group of friends conversing around a table with one opening a bottle of wine, not just a staged conversation.
Travel website: Action shot of a father and son playing in sand or the sea on an inflatable toy, not a staged family walking on the beach.
Extreme sports website: skater or BMX’er mid-trick at a skate park, not a staged image of someone just sat on their bike or casually riding on a road.
Horse racing website: close-up imagery of a jockey putting all of his effort into his sport, not a staged photo of multiple jockeys on their horses at the start line.
Legal website: Hard hitting imagery of winning cases with real families, not staged lawyers in suits smiling in the camera at a fake desk.
Don’t just use a location image because it looks nice, think about the location you’re presenting. There’s no point I presenting a nice street in sunny California, USA when the website you’re working on is based in rainy Manchester, UK. It just doesn’t fit and once again it send a fake message to users and potential customers.
PLEASE do NOT use buildings in your legal and corporate designs, they mean absolutely nothing. The amount of corporate websites that I’ve come across in the last 8 years, that use zoomed-in shots looking up at large glass buildings, is unbelievable and unbearable. This is lazy design at it’s best and everyone who see’s it knows the only reason that there’s a photo of a building there is purely because the designer couldn’t be a***d spending the time to consider what the image was. Think about the image, what is the message you’re trying to tell, what would a customer most likely relate to and get in touch. Buildings mean nothing to a customer.
Over the shoulder Mobile/Tablet.
This is one type of image that’s really difficult to get right, and one that I struggle with myself from time to time. It’s clear that a majority of websites, desktop apps and mobile app platforms need to be demonstrated in a human way, showing real humans interacting and using the software. The problem is, a majority of the images available to do this are extremely cheesy shots that look staged, and when mockups are placed within the screen they look unrealistic. My preference with these types of images is simply not to use them.
A) if you need to mock-up a visual to demonstrate how it looks on tablet, desktop or mobile then find another way to do it or simply use one of the 100’s of available, free, mockups online. You don’t need someone holding the iPad to show how it looks. Check out websites like Sketch App, there isn’t one single mock-up of someone sat at a computer to demonstrate how the app looks on a Desktop screen, yet it still does the job and looks visually pleasing at the same time. People are interested in the software that you’re selling, not how someone else looks whilst using it.
B) if you want to get a point across that the app is accessible at all times on a mobile app, then simply use a good photo of someone using an app, realistically. The screen doesn’t have to be facing towards the camera with a mock-up of the app inside it to get this point across, people know what it looks like for someone to be using their mobile phones and how convenient it is to have it with you at all times.
Patterns and Close-ups.
We see a lot of these recently on websites such as Unsplash.com and it’s something that I’m very fond of as a designer. Close up shots of patterns and shapes that people see everyday, these are great when you’re looking to create a simplistic design, but don’t want to just use flat space, these subtle background elements can really help bring the most boring pages to life.
I cannot stand sign imagery use in designs. It’s just a crap way to get a message across, and a pain in the a** to work with responsively in digital design. By all means, use this type of imagery in blog posts and social posts that relate to the message on the sign, maybe it’s an “open for business” sign, I don’t know. Just don’t use this type of imagery as an image to support a module on your home or app page.
Food & Drink.
One of the very little picky things that really grinds my gears are brands using photography of food and drink for their bar or restaurant that they don’t produce themselves. Like most people: I want to see what I’m buying, I want to see what my food looks like before I buy it. If you can’t give me a burger that looks as juicy and beautiful as the stock image that you’re showing me on your website, then why are you showing it. Take your own photography, or arrange a professional photo shoot and direct the photography so that it meets your needs and also fits the brand, trust me it’ll be worth it.
Unless you’re working on a website or app that sells some form of trip to the mountains, do NOT put mountains in your design. The reasoning that I’ve heard in the past for using mountains is “they look inspiring” – no they do not. They look a like lazy designer didn’t know what to put there. They’re irrelevant to the message you’re trying to tell.
Same as above, there are so many of these floating around on stock image websites, but I’m yet to discover an opportunity to use them. What message does a random person, dressed like an indie, stood in the middle of nowhere, say to a user about a company? Even for a website dedicated to travelling, this doesn’t entice me to want to buy into it, does it with you? Traveling is inspirational, it’s exciting, go back to the lifestyle shots, think of the fun things you do when travelling, you don’t stand around in the middle of nowhere and stare at nothing, do you?