Use relevant, authentic photos or none

Hey, did you even look at either of the photos in this post? If not, congratulations: you're normal. Eyetracking maps show there is a certain type of image that people literally do not see on a web page. It is amazing to realise that images can be totally ignored by a sample of 30 people in the entire time they spend looking at a page. A selective blindness strikes virtually all viewers.

Perfection gets rejection. It isn't repulsive photos that repel the eye's photos of professional models posing. They all look the same.

At Usability Week 2006 in Sydney, Kara Pernice Coyne showed numerous examples of this phenomenon. All were based on her own research with Jakob Nielsen.

Want a visual filler for your page about office equipment? Don't even think about using a stock photo of a model smiling. Out of the corner of their eyes, readers notice just enough to deduce: boring, fake, might be an ad: avoid!

Instead, use an image of a real person in a real situation. Images that do get attention are relevant to the content, clear, and just the right size. We look at images of approachable people, smiling and looking at the camera.

YouTube is built upon such truths.

Kara Pernice Coyne


Jan 11, 2007 • Posted by rachel

Quick, cheap, and mindless?

Feb 20, 2007 • Posted by monchito

Hehehe :)

Dec 08, 2006 • Posted by Matt Sach

I’m afraid I had the same response as lisa in this context, but you’re so spot on for the occasions when people are using them in the “right” context. I find them absolutely laughable!

Dec 08, 2006 • Posted by rachel

Yesterday I found a call-centre photo that I did look at: is it because this particular model is looking at me and smiling? I almost believe in her. Why? (Or am I just desperate?)

Jan 11, 2007 • Posted by monchito

It’s a simple truth and one all webmaster/graphics designers/seo’s should take into account.

However, why is it that off the web, on tv, there are so many ‘stock photo people’ to be seen in commercials? There must be some reason for that… I wonder what it is

Nov 14, 2006 • Posted by lisa

while you’re making a point, you’re kinda missing something – and that’s that the images you used were so out of place on this site that my eyes were immediately compelled to look at them – and in fact stopped me from reading your post. or was that in fact the point?

Nov 15, 2006 • Posted by rachel

That makes two people who have reacted similarly – wow! Coyne and Nielsen say images must be relevant; seems when an image is both generic and wildly inappropriate, it influences readers to reject the words as well as the image. I guess this makes the message even stronger: such images are poison.

Leave a comment: