As James Chudley states in his book “The Usability of Web Photos”, some people find it strange to talk in term of usability if we talk about photos. But photo’s help us create a certain desired user experience in more ways than we mostly think. Often people use photo’s as a place filler, just to have something in the header of their site. Or they don’t want to spend too much time on choosing an image, I’ll explain why this is a wrong approach, based on a book from Five Simple Steps.

As said in the first paragraph, photo’s can, and definitely should help with the total user experience. As you might know, user experience consists of several aspects, such as a good usability, desire, emotions, valuable and some more which can be read in the HoneyComb model by Peter Morville here. 

Lets just look at some examples of how photos can aid us in creating the desired effect in our UX.

Example 1:
Company X is a webdesign bureau, which obviously is not real, but on their beautiful full width header image they got a picture of penguins, because they want to convey the feeling of “working together”, and because penguins are always together this would be the right picture. But what we figured out that like 80% of the audience did not understand why there were penguins on the header image, so it did not add any value at all. Moreover, it even caused people to leave because they thought they were on the wrong place, or they looked at it for a couple of seconds, feeling confused and than moved on, without knowing anything more about the company, just less. (This was a real case by the way).

Example 2:
The following example shows how important it is to choose images carefully, and that the little details can be crucial to the result. There is this company that delivers frozen meals to elderly people, but those people don’t always order those products themself, so they are not the target group. The actually target group adds great value to trust, because they want to be really sure they can trust the company, that the food will actually be delivered, and that the delivery man really can be trusted. The idea was to take photos of the delivery man. But by coincidence they had a really bad winter and there was snow all over the place. The image now said: “Our people will go through whatever weather it is, to deliver the food on time to the people you care about, no matter what.”, instead of just “hello, we deliver food”.

Empathy

So what the above examples taught us, is that empathy is very important. And also common sense. Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your image. Should it inform the visitor about what services your company delivers? Should it tell them how dedicated your employees are? Should it create a certain emotion? And so on. Wondering what the user wants to see helps making decisions here. What if I was the visitor and I wanted a new webdesign, what would I want to see? What if I ordered frozen meals for my 85 year old parents? What kind of feeling is the right feeling? What is the user hoping for? (answer: a company that can be trusted, read example 2 above).

Mistake
Empathy is a good thing, and something you really should get a hang on. However sometimes we wonder what we would want, in cases that it does not matter what we want. In example 2 it wasn’t really hard, we just had to imagine having old parents ourself and wondering what would be important to us, and since everyone has parents and somebody they  care about it was not hard to think through their eyes. But there are so many choices where you really do need answers from your target group, this is mostly the case if you just can’t place yourself in your audience because you’re not the audience by far. Maybe you work for teachers one day, or maybe you work for plumbers some day, if you have absolutely no affinity with this group, you probably can’t place yourself into those people, because their thinking might be so different from what you assume they think. And as I always say: “Assumptions are the mother of all f*ckups”, so never assume anything. Assuming people want a trustworty frozen-meal-dilevery-service isn’t entirely an assumption, it’s partly just common sence. But as said before, sometimes it’s just too hard to place yourself in someones mind and we tend to assume all kinds of stuff, which is wrong.

Conclusion
So where it basically comes down to, is that you should always carefully think about choosing your photos. Photo’s are more powerful than we think, text is boring, images are cool, bluntly.
Spend more time than you used to about what you want the image to do.

If you learned something new here, I got a lot of information from James Chudleys book, I only told the things I thought were the most interesting in the book and the most useful for me, if you think this subject is interesting you should check that link.

Thanks for reading, feedback is more than welcome as always, since I’m writing this for you and increasing the quality of this blog is something we all wish for, right?:)