I’m in the market for a new pair of jeans. I have spent a hours browsing the web and have been reminded of how consistency in photographic style can have a significant impact upon usability.
Consider the example above from asos. The products are all photographed identically. This makes it easier to focus on the the products and not the visual differences that result from them being photographed in different ways.
For a retailer that stocks a variety of brands this consistent photographic style makes sense because it makes it easier for customers to compare one quite different brand with another.
It’s interesting to see just how consistent the photos are. The exposure is identical in every photo and you can see from the shadows behind the legs that the lighting set up is also identical. The cropping of the photos is also identical, again to allow the customer to make easy comparisons between the products.
So what happens when there isn’t a consistent photographic style?
Immediately you can see the difference. The eBay example is so much more distracting and you find yourself scanning all over the page in an effort to try and compare like with like.
So if your customers are struggling to choose between the products on your site, have a look to at your category landing pages and see how consistent your photographic style is to see how you measure up.
During my trawl of the web to find more on the topic this is one article that I found really useful. Jared talks about how web graphics help, and when they don’t and he makes some great points on the use of photos.
He makes a great distinction between the two main types of photos that you commonly see used on websites, ‘content’ and 'ornamental’ photos.
'Content’ photos are useful photos and they add something of value to the page. Examples of content photos include product photos that help customers to choose the right product for them.
There are many different types of content photo that you can use such as photos that help people to read, learn, remember, make decisions and focus their attention. I am pulling these together in a poster with Susan Weinschenk at this years UPA conference, that explains the psychological and UX principles behind what makes these types of content photos so effective. I will share the poster here once its finished! UPDATE! Our poster now available to download.
'Ornamental’ photos can be considered as filler content. They add nothing of direct value to a page other than potentially splitting up large chunks of content. Cheesy stock photography often lurks here, beware!
So before you add a photo to your page, consider what its job is. Is it a 'content’ photo or an 'ornamental’ photo? Is it necessary? What value does it add to the user or to the site owner?
One common complaint I often hear when conducting user research is that the people who feature in photos don’t look genuine. This is often because they are models who look disproportionately happy to be using a certain product because they are being paid to pretend to do so!
This raises the question of how good actually are we at spotting a real smile from a fake one. It turns out that we are generally surprisingly bad at it.
It turns out that what constitutes a real smile is pretty subtle:
When a smile is genuine, the eye cover fold - the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly.
Whenever people see stock photos that feature people that are clearly models they immediately question the authenticity of the digital product or service. This is a great idea to make more authentic stock photography of people more readily available for designers to use.
“Fake People Suck” — now that’s a tagline. In 2009 David Katzenstein and Sherrie Nickol began a fine arts project that involved asking people off the street to come to their studio and photographing them against a white background. The idea was to capture the striking diversity that’s commonplace in New York. But after photographing about 50 people — and due also to a steady drop in commissions from commercial and corporate projects — they realized the potential the project had as a commercial venture. Thus was born Citizen Stock.
Check out the full article over at the wonderful PetaPixel.
Photos of faces (particularly when they are of people you know) are very effective at attracting your attention. Linkedin cleverly used this principle to attract recipients attention to a recent email campaign.
Photos provide an excellent way of guiding people through a process. In this example the excellent photos let you check that what you are preparing looks like it’s supposed to!
Photos can be really useful when following instructions such as when you build things and fix things. We know how much people hate following instructions, particularly when they consist of large amounts of text. Photos show you how to do things as well as what the thing you are constructing is supposed to look like.
We all love a good story. From an early age we’ve been told stories to entertain us, protect us and to teach us about all manner of things.
Photos help to tell stories by bringing elements of a story to life. They help people to empathise with the characters, setting, context and situation that form the story.
There are many to use photos when telling stories. Use photos to help to bring customer stories to life, to tell a story about how a product or service works or highlight what real life is actually like for some people.
To see some great examples of storytelling with photos check out Pictorymag and Nick Hand’s wonderful Soundslides.
Landscape and photos of the natural world are often used in environments like hospitals, waiting rooms and hotels to help to create a calm and serene environment.
Studies have shown that visual stimulus, such as a window offering a view from a hospital bed can have a positive effect on recovery times (see PDF of research by Roger Ulrich). This got me wondering whether patients with beautiful landscape photos on their walls recover faster than those without?
They are used widely online, particularly on travel websites such as Abercrombiekent as they help people to imagine the experience they will have on holiday. They help to sell a dream, an experience or lifestyle that a viewer might be striving for and to let them escape from everyday life.
Photos like this are often used for ornamental purposes. When used in this way they offer no real purpose other than to break up large blocks of text and to provide a bit of eye candy.
The photos on Threadless are brilliant. The shoot for each T-shirt design is unique which results in a photographic style that is distinctive, recognisable and a perfect fit for the brand. The photos are a good size too (636x460) so you can get a good look at the product. I like the way that they use employees as models too, a nice touch.