One of the primary jobs of any designer—regardless the medium—is to convey complex stories and ideas visually in such a way that the viewer can nearly instantly comprehend the information being presented. Human beings are highly visual creatures able to make connections and process visual information almost instantly. Your overall decision to engage, trust, believe, purchase or commit to an action is formed in milliseconds.
In light of this, the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is an incredibly powerful statement, implying that a single still image can convey more to the observer than an elaborate block of text, nearly instantly.
But what about when this isn’t the case?
One of the most dangerous elements in any design is imagery that conveys the wrong message, causes confusion or leaves the user with a sense of shallow fakery. In that moment, you would be better off getting those thousand words properly formatted for the user to read because the damage is often hard to undo—because it is so quick, subjective and subliminal—as well, you may lost your chance to entice the user into further action.
Someone recently said on Twitter, "…I hate fake people stock photos with a passion - are they actually any good to motivate action?"
I thought it perfectly illustrated my point (even though that person’s company is guilty of this exact statement). Corporate websites are notorious for the over-use of insincere, shallow stock photography employed to "really say something about our company!"
Unfortunately it usually ends up saying, "We were too cheap to get someone to take some photos that are an authentic representation of our company and our culture."
I know not everyone has the resources to do this, but even when using stock photography, care should be taken to ensure that the photo is truly telling your story and reinforcing your message.
It doesn’t matter if it is a picture, an infographic, a screenshot, or a product rendering, all visual communication in your design leaves a cumulative impression on the user. Take the time to make sure that every part of your visual communication on your site or around your product is reinforcing your message.