When someone navigates to your site, the visuals are the first thing they notice, so they need to make a big impact. What type of images are best, though? As a designer, you have the choice of stock photography and graphics, original illustrations, and original photographs. Though stock content rarely has a place in site design, original images can shape your site into a powerful promotional tool.

Engaging With Illustrations

One reason that websites often lean heavily on illustrations in their design is that basic images with clean lines and solid colors are appealing to the eye, and they help keep the overall site simple and easy to use. Overly busy site design, on the other hand, tends to increase cart abandonment and bounce rates. Plus, if you are on a production budget, it’s much easier to find appealing stock illustrations than stock photos.

How Photos Function

In comparison to illustrations, photos can be much more challenging to use on a website. Stock photos, in particular, can really detract from your website. Research actually shows that readers skip over stock images like they aren’t there. At this juncture, they’re so overused that the brain recognizes them without even processing the content. Original photography, however, can engage users and make them feel more connected with your business.

Creating A Winning Combination

Though both illustrations and photos have their place in web design, many of the best pages use an innovative combination of the two to bring different elements of the site together. Green Residential, a property management group in Houston, for example, uses simple illustrations to ground their site – solid green images of homes, financial symbols, and maintenance tools. Then, moving beyond that, the site includes real images of the company’s staff, creating a tangible connection with the business.

Another successful site that combines illustrations and photography to successfully engage readers is The Outline, a popular culture and politics site. At first glance, The Outline may seem overwhelming – targeting a millennial audience, the site bursts with color. On closer examination, however, it’s easy to see that the designers are innovating on several basic forms. Staple visuals like emojis and globes are interspersed with original photographs and even color modifications and distortions. It’s a novel take on ordinary visual content.

Identifying Your Visual Narrative

Whenever you’re working on a website, the easiest way to determine what types of visuals will be most effective is to think about the underlying narrative. Returning to the earlier examples, it’s easy to see that Green Residential’s use of images is designed to drive sales; the illustrations are straight out of a marketing presentation and they come together with narrative thrust. Even though there are both illustrations and photographs, they don’t exist at odds with each other.

In comparison, The Outline’s images aren’t designed to mesh together in the way seen on Green Residential; each news article is distinct, so the graphics are equally independent of each other. Ultimately, in addition to narrative, the most important elements are accuracy and professionalism. As long as the graphics present a polished face that’s cohesive with the underlying brand, then they’re doing their job.

Improved photography technology has made it simple for even amateur photographers to produce professional quality images, but if you’re not up to the challenge, it’s time to call in the professionals. Though the phrase, “you have to spend money to make money” is somewhat overused, it definitely applies to website design. If you don’t invest in quality content – both in terms of visuals and written material – you won’t draw an audience or make a profit. It may seem minor at the time, but those little images are a big picture issue.

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