Say It With Pictures: Tips for Conveying Information Graphically

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a bad picture is worth only a “huh?” Here’s how to save your website from needless, confusing graphics.

Our minds process images more efficiently than words. We humans have been looking at objects longer than we’ve been reading, and it feels like we’ve been looking at the “I can has cheezeburger?” meme even longer. This being the case, it only makes sense that we incorporate images into our websites.

In fact, it’s very difficult to have a user-pleasing website without graphics supplementing the text. (Where would TMZ be without images?) Graphics allow the user to grasp complex information while projecting the website’s expertise and design acumen – as long as they’re used correctly.

However, not all graphics are a good idea. Graphics for graphics’ sake are surprisingly expensive. They can be expensive if you mistakenly use copywritten graphics (and are subsequently sued). They can be expensive to source; a photo gallery can cost as much as $1,000. And – most important of all – they can cost you in clients/sales if they drive viewers from your page.

Graphics are supposed to help, not hinder, your site. Here are a few things you should consider when adding graphics to your website.

Pictures better than text? Not always

Pictures are not worth a thousand words, and sometimes they succeed in obscuring the words you’re trying to post.

From an SEO perspective, text can be crawled by search engines; images can’t. If you have textual elements embedded within your pictures, they won’t show up in search results.

Also, image-heavy pages take longer to load. Speed is an essential element for viewer engagement. If you’re relying upon graphics to convey your core message and those graphics are taking forever to load, you’re going to lose your viewership.
What about the pictures themselves? Don’t they have inherent value in terms of making a website a visual pleasure?

Aesthetic pitfalls of graphics

While it’s true that graphics can make a website look complete and at least somewhat well thought-out, they can detract from your overall brand message.

If you want your users to appreciate the unique qualities of your brand, don’t use standard-issue stock photos of pleasing-looking people smiling in sunny, spacious offices. Yes, they’re professional. Yes, they’re well composed. Nevertheless, those photos are everywhere, and many contain the same models. We can grasp the concept of telephonic customer service without a photo of a woman wearing a headset, whose warm, open smile indicates that she’s never had to perform customer service in her life.

Also, using stock photos can lead to unrealistic expectations. Do you really have a spacious, sunny, 10th floor office with a spectacular downtown view that’s staffed with gorgeous 20-somethings? Probably not. When people walk into your business and see the reality – a cramped, unfashionable, decorated ground-floor mini mall office with a middle-aged workforce – they might be disappointed. (Or even suspicious.)

Navigation pitfalls of graphics

While responsive design can take care of many issues regarding website display on smartphones and tablets, they’re not a magic wand. In other words, graphics that are too big (like infographics that spread out below the fold) can interrupt the flow of site navigation. Furthermore, if you do have an infographic, you’ll want it to be share-able. Big infographic images can’t be displayed well on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, but these are the primary sites where the graphics are viewed.
Resizing infographics can also lead to problems. If they were developed at a particular size, making them smaller can diminish readability – sometimes totally. An unreadable infographic is just a useless swirl of color.

Making your images count

Simplicity is key to the successful use of graphics. Of course, 3D images can be impressive, but if they’re not essential to your message, it’s only visual noise. Here are a few other factors to keep in mind:

  • Use graphics to make your message easier to understand. Ambiguity isn’t your friend. Anything that doesn’t simplify your brand or product message should be avoided.
  • Use color as a strategy. Just because you like a color family doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. Consider how colors influence your audience. Do you want to make them hungry? Excite them? Also, consider users who can’t make color distinctions. Will those users be able to appreciate the design strategy as well?
  • Use original images. Even if you’re armed with nothing more than a decent smartphone, you can create original images using one of numerous free online image creation tools. However, in order to make the most of your images, you’ll want to consult a professional graphic designer who can make the images fit in with your strategy.

It doesn’t take much for a user to click away. Don’t let a boring, too-large, complicated, or slow-to-load image doom your website.