Photos as web content' is a useful article covering some salient points with regards to photos and usability from Jakob Nielsen.

In the article Jakob discusses using real people vs stock, product photos , photo size and critically the importance of using photos that ‘carry information’.

That final point is so important and is what you can ensure by taking a more strategic approach to planning & evaluating your photos.

Once you understand what tasks people are trying to complete when they use your site you can provide them with photos that help them, it really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

I’ve been looking at loads of pharmaceutical products websites for various client work recently.

Typically the photos are of product pack shots but this site for a Swiss Flu remedy (really stood out.

The shot manages to capture how it feels to suffer from the Flu quite well and is much more powerful and evocative then just a pack shot.

I also like the fact that you can understand exactly what they photo is communicating without needing to understand a word of text on the page. 

Photos of real people (not shiny models) are important for believable persona profiles. You can add extra context to your personas by adding photos to illustrate other aspects of their lives like their working environments too.

In this short video I talk a little bit more about this and show how a photo came together that I used to illustrate the personas chapter in my ‘Smashing UX Design' book.

Interesting to see the impact that improving the photos on airbnb had on weekly revenue!

How AirBNB started

Timeline created by Anna Vital from

I had a great conversation recently with someone who was responsible for the selection of photos on her corporate website.

Her main problems were:

1. How can we measure the success of the photos that we change?

2. How can I determine the quality of the photos that we use on our current site

After a broader conversation it became clear that in order to answer these questions she needed to take a more strategic approach.

During the call we worked through what I think presents a sensible strategy for improving the quality of web photos that you could apply to your own digital product or service.

1. Define the role of photography within your product/ service.

Create a photographic strategy document that explains how photos should be used to communicate your brand, your proposition and how your product / service meets the needs of your customers. 

This will become your ‘rule book’ that will be used in the future to guide the selection of photos for your digital product/ service. Treat it as a hypothesis that you can test and refine during this process.

Use tools like customer experience maps to plan what types of photos you will need to meet both business and user requirements throughout the entire customer lifecycle/ journey.

2. Take stock of what you have

Create an inventory of the photos that you have and audit them using your style guide. Get some user input to help to understand what your photos are communicating to them at the moment. 

You can also use my ‘photo usability checklist (excel download)' as an evaluation tool.

List the photos you can use and the ones you need to lose.

3. Work out what you need

Your experience map will provide a complete picture of what you need and your audit and inventory will have told you what you have. The gaps represent what you need to shoot/ commission/ locate (some useful sources here).

4. Shoot and measure

Once you have got the new photos you need publish them and measure the effect that they have both qualitatively and quantitatively. 

5. Learn and iterate

The role and impact of the photos within your digital product/ service will continually change. As your knowledge grows you should regularly update your photographic strategy (and the photos you use) to reflect both the changes in your business strategy and the usage of your product.

Compare your results to the benchmark you defined at step 2 to keep track of your successes and failures.

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I find that a lot of ‘strategy’ stuff I read is often long winded and vague so I have deliberately tried to make this short and to the point.

Do give it a try and let me know how you get on.

In his “5 Design decisions, What’s Yours" article Jared Spool talks about two websites that sell hiking boots and shares a great photoux related story.

In the early days of e-commerce, we studied how seasoned hiking customers bought hiking boots online. Two sites in our study, L.L. Bean and REI, both sold virtually identical boots at the same price with practically the same marketing copy. Yet the customers we studied were far more likely to buy the boots on the REI site than on the L.L. Bean site.

Why? Because the product pictures on the REI site showed the bottoms of the boots, whereas the L.L. Bean imagery only showed the boots standing upright. For people experienced with buying hiking boots, the tread on the bottom is important. Choosing a tread, for some hikers, can be a matter of life or death.

It’s a great example of using user requirements to inform your photo strategy.

Thanks @sophiedennis for sharing the article.

There is a great site called Placeit that lets you generate your own photos.

I can see it being really useful for client pitches, design presentations and also in general concept development work

Choose your device and your environment then drop a screenshot of your app/ website etc onto the device.

Finding good photography to use online can be really difficult.

Here’s a list of useful free photo resources from conversion optimisation expert Craig Sullivan (@optimiseordie).

Finding Creative Commons Images: Why & How by PF Anderson

Creative commons images on Flickr

'Searching by licence' with Bing

Free hi res images from

Free stock photos at

A blog celebrating photos, the unsung heroes of great user experience design, by James Chudley (@chudders)

My 60 page 'Usability of web photos' ebook is available for only £2 / €3.50 / $3.50.

A percentage of every sale will go to Children in Need.

Buy Usability of web photos

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