How your photos are killing good User Experience

How your photos kill good user experience.

It’s true that Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.  Hence why it’s often used online and in the representation of good user experience.

On the odd occasion I have clients who want to use Stock photography (those found on iStock, Shutterstock, etc.) or even worse they want to ‘get some photos off Google’, which I’ll also add is illegal.   Stock photographs are perfectly fine for use in newsletters or within blog posts for example where there is still an element of your brand around and as a filler for where you don’t have custom images that represent what you’re trying to convey.


I always encourage clients to take their own or get professional photographs taken.  This is purely because as users we are conditioned to seeing the same old cheesy stock photographs.   In user testing the same disgust comes up when seeing dreaded cliched stock photographs.  It’s unfortunately very common across the web because it’s available everywhere and is relatively cheap.  Users hate them because they can’t associate with the people they contain or the situations they recreate.

So when we see something so unique, so authentic, it catches our eye and we feel more a kin to the brand we’re looking at.

Let’s take an example:  You run a property management company where your team looks after a number of client properties and you have a website where you talk about the type of investment your making with them.  You would typically get something like this:

Bad UX photo of Office Space.

Businesspeople working in office

Yes it’s perfectly fine, but firstly people assume that either:

  • it’s not your office
  • it is your office
  • that’s your staff

Which just doesn’t bode well with your brand.

On another note, I’m going to introduce you to Ariane (see below).  You may feel as if you’ve seen her before and you would probably be right.  Ariane is featured in so many websites, ads, billboards, flyers, buses etc that once you’re aware of it, it’s hard to UN-see her.

Businesses all over the world buy her images off stock websites to use in their campaigns most likely due to her being racially ambiguous, good looking and because she’s positioned well in generic looking situations.

Bad user experience - photos

Agencies use Ariane in their campaigns like Energizer, Kiwished, HouseofTravel and other large brands so although it’s cheesy it can sometimes work when she has been manipulated enough that it looks real (like she’s holding the product).  But as a rule of thumb, try and take your own photographs, and use real people.  Users love it and at the moment authenticity is winning the online business game.

Another way photos can be good for UX is for ecommerce and product shots.

The larger the better.  I’ve seen the rise of huge product images where product pages are enabling so much detail where even in online clothing stores, they can get so close that you can see the type of fabric it is.  Ensuring the lighting on the product is natural, and the photos are consistant on your website, you will certainly ensure a good user experience for those wanting to purchase from you.

Photos should be consistant in their brand messaging.

Think about the types of images you see when Coke comes out with a new ad.  Yup, you can always be sure that it’s going to be a summer day.  There’ll be a female or youths sitting in sun, the people in the photos will always be smiling/laughing because obviously their product is just so fantastic it excretes happiness’ and you I’m joking but you get what I mean.



Pictures are a thousand words.

Yes.  Let me tell you what the job of an information architect or instructional designer is (those who write content and or programmes for tother to learn something).  It’s to cut the crap and get to the point.  If you can replace text with an image, do it.  If you can recreate an experience or create trust in an online space with an image, do it.

Users don’t have time anymore to read your WHOLE article.  You probably haven’t even read the whole of this blog post (thanks..), so make your point clear with images where you can.

For example:

  • use a 30 money back guarantee badges on checkout processes rather than just say ’30 money back guarantee’.
  • always have action for users to do at the end of a product page or blog.  Whether it’s more blog posts, signing up for something that’s related or showing more products!
  • show you product in it’s environment, not fake made up ones
  • always use a filter for your company shots and brand to ensure your brand style stays the same
  • If you’re trying to explain something, keep it simple by using an illustration rather than an image

User experience material deisgn.

And that’s it!

Overall it’s key that your image evokes authenticity, if you want users to purchase from you, you need them to trust you.  So ‘keep it real’ in photographs.

Use images to reduce your text.  If you can explain what you’re trying to say in an image then use one and reduce the amount of text on your site.

And finally, ensure brand consistency by selecting imagery that reflect your brand ideal

10+ years as a product designer. Helping start-ups and organisations combine user research and design principals to deliver the best in online experiences.

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