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We’re Being Conditioned To Misuse Stock Photos In Design

Do a search on Google and when the results come up, click on every website on the first page. All of the websites will look the same. The top of the page will either have a giant slider or stock photo, there will be some kind of popup (or three), and you’ll find a web form to sign up for a freebie of some sort in the sidebar.

There’s nothing wrong with using a standard layout if it’s effective, but today’s websites are using unreasonably large sliders and stock photos that dip far below the fold, even on a desktop computer. They’re not just obnoxiously large; they’re also irrelevant to the content on the page.

Why has this element of bad web design become a popular design element?

The real reason for the proliferation of gigantic stock photos

Cause and effect can be tricky to differentiate. Often, effects are mistakenly seen as cause, and vice versa. At first glance, it appears that people are intentionally choosing to display these gigantic stock photos on their website. After all, most business owners subscribe to stock photo websites. However, there’s more to the story, and it begins with the rising popularity of templates.

Templates have conditioned people toward stock photos

Templates are a fantastic tool for any business. They’re affordable, easy to install, and easy to customize, especially when you’re using a platform like WordPress. However, templates are also limiting, because you can’t design outside of their existing structure.

When you browse websites that sell beautiful templates, you’ll notice those templates display beautiful photographs that make the template look amazing. These photographs are what sell the template. In other words, designers know how to market their templates and pay top dollar to use stunning photographs in their template demos.

Since the template designer doesn’t have the rights to distribute those beautiful stock photos, their template downloads don’t come with those photos, often to the dismay of the buyer. The buyer is then required to find his or her own stock photo, and will usually settle for something free or cheap. Unfortunately, cheap photos bring down the quality of the template when displayed in an area designed for stunning beauty.

Now we’ve got a world full of businesses buying premade templates, which tells designers to keep producing more of the same kinds of templates. Designers will copy the hottest selling design and that’s why the web is filled with websites that all look the same. If fast selling designs have a gigantic stock photo that takes up the whole screen, that’s what other designers will create, too.

Templates encourage using irrelevant photos

Hundreds of businesses in the IT world display stock photos of smiling people wearing wireless headsets, wearing a suit engaged in a meeting, or holding a briefcase while jumping in the air. These photos may look fun, but they don’t support the message of any business. Those kinds of photos are created by photographers who want to sell their photos. In other words, they’re marketing gimmicks, not marketing assets.

Websites should only use images if they support the content on the page, and reinforce the information for the visitor. The imagery should be customized to the content, or it shouldn’t exist at all.

For example, every graphic displayed on this website discussing worker’s compensation is specifically designed to support the content. Where there’s a packet of paper intended to represent the process for filing a claim, they’ve customized it with their information. Where there’s an image of a phone, they’ve customized the information displayed on the screen.

These images may have started as stock images, but they’ve been customized to be relevant to the content on the page.

We can’t exactly blame the template designers

Although templates create a subconscious obligation to use stock photos, even if it means selecting photos that don’t actively support the content, it’s not really the designer’s fault. We live in a world that supports and promotes a DIY website, and the value of hiring a true designer has been lost.

If you’re going to use a template to save money, at least throw some cash at a graphic designer to help you customize your imagery. Your visitors may not say anything, but they’ll certainly notice the difference.

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