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When I see a corporate website making use of stock photos, especially stock photos of supposed customers grinning their faces off or employees deep in thought, the site's credibility goes down a notch in my book. When you recognize these same photos or persons appearing in other companies' advertising, it's pretty amusing. Even when the photos are well done, I think the insincerity the photos add can detract from the site.

At the same time, what is a designer to do when the options are thin? If you're a farmer and you have a website, you probably want to include some pictures of your fields or produce. If you're a shoe company and you sell shoes, you'll likely include one or two pictures of shoes on your site. But if you're in a financial or business processes company and it offers an abstract, intangible service that one can only explain in ethereal, domain-specific language, how do you convey the service in a pictures or icons? An easy fall-back is the genre of business person/business office environment. After all, these elements are related in some way to the product.

But if you go this route, how have you differentiated your company? Or maybe sticking with this convention is a safe route to take?

So, for websites of companies offering intangible products, what guidelines do we have for using stock photos? Would using a stock photo involving nature or a place or an action loosely connected to a concept that's part of the company's services be out of place?

Any other suggestions or thoughts on the matter would be appreciated. I'm aware of the discussion of UX impact of standard stock photos, but think this is a bit of a different take on the subject.

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Why not use photos of the business premises of the company? –  F21 Dec 11 '11 at 7:11
    
@phpdev - I suppose in some cases, that would work. In others, I suppose sites use stock photos of non-company buildings because showing their actual premises would not be to their advantage. –  mg1075 Dec 11 '11 at 8:07
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Is this really about UX? Where do we draw the line between UX and marketing? –  Patrick McElhaney Dec 11 '11 at 13:04

3 Answers 3

37signals wrote an excellent blog post about conversion rates on their homepage using different imagery and design approaches. http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2991-behind-the-scenes-ab-testing-part-3-final

The most succesfull design (you can see it at http://highrisehq.com/) featured photographs of actual customers with real quotes. The photo look slightly amateur - in the comment section some argue that this contributes to the success of the design.

The other thing to take from this article is the testing methodology, test different approaches and their effect on your metrics (leads, sales etc).

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Yes, by chance I examined the site yesterday, and certainly one of the suggested routes to take on all the sites that bash stock photos is that if you're going to use photos of people, use photos of real employees or real customers, thereby giving your site more credibility in the eyes of users. –  mg1075 Dec 11 '11 at 15:19

Actually Jakob Nielsen describe eye-tracking study considering stock photos. Have a look here: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/photo-content.html

Best,

Marcin

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Thanks Marcin! Can you summarize the key points of that article as they relate to the question? –  Patrick McElhaney Dec 11 '11 at 22:25
    
The key point is - eyetracking studies shows that people do not pay attention to generic, purely decorative, photos and pay attention to information-carrying photos. –  marcintreder Dec 12 '11 at 7:14

yes stock images are cheesey but people use them when they can't afford anything else.

And, the thing is they work (otherwise people wouldn't use them!)

but the fact is that people will respond to a happy smiling face...its instinctive.

We all know we are being conned but can't help but react.

so my advice to you is hold your nose if you have to but it works....

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"And, the thing is they work (otherwise people wouldn't use them!)" I'm not sure that's a true correlation. They may 'work' in that they make the client happy, but not so sure they 'work' in that they make the client money. –  DA01 Dec 11 '11 at 21:39

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