If a data source doesn't contain images for certain items, what is the best way to indicate that the image used is a placeholder image?

The type of placeholder image would probably alter dependant on the type of image that should be there. For example if its a missing image of a person then a silhouetted image of a person would probably be used. But what if its a generic image whereby I don't want to indicate the type of image that's missing, only that this particular item doesn't have its own image.

Any thoughts?


Ok lets get into specifics then. Lets assume a placeholder is needed. it has to be a generic placeholder i.e. no human silhouette or identicon or file type. Is the best solution a variation on the flat grey mountain and sun icon? I believe it is but what are peoples thoughts on this?

  • 3
    For serious answers see below but for a bit of fun you could always consider Fill Murray Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 17:40
  • @CharlesWesley I will be considering that :)
    – Dave Haigh
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 15:50

4 Answers 4


I believe it depends on content too much to give a single answer.

what is the best way to indicate that the image used is a placeholder image?

Generally, you want it to be easy to tell the placeholder from the real thing. So if the expected image is a photo, do not use a photographic image as a placeholder, but rather an icon.

Always make sure that the placeholder matches the style and colors of the system, visually showing that this piece of graphic is a part of the program controls, not a part of the user contents, or perhaps just leave the space empty.

Some variations:

  • Layout does not necessarily require a placeholder. Not finding a good example right now, so this menu will have to do:

    enter image description here

  • Containers can be used so that it does not matter whether there is an image inside or not (Empty folder below)

  • Icons: could be used, depending on the situation, just like the silhouette you mention, or the Empty Image below:

    enter image description here

Edit/Addition (see question)

If the image that needs a placeholder is the type of image that actually could be The Sun and the Mountain, then yes, using that metaphor would work.

If the image, when existing, rather would be a picture of a tool (a hammer), a shape (a polygon, a border, a rounded corner), an organism (an amoeba), then pick another metaphor accordingly.

If you really need a placeholder image/icon for your "generic image", then the job starts in finding that metaphor, and many systems find The Sun and the Mountain appropriate.

  • Good points. Agree with everything here. ive updated my question getting into specifics of the icon to use. What are your thoughts?
    – Dave Haigh
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 9:24
  • Amending my answer.
    – JOG
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 16:11

enter image description here

Identicons, as shown in the attached image above, are good options as the placeholder for missing images.


  • Does not indicate the type of image that's missing, only that this particular item doesn't have its own image.

  • Identicon will prevent user grouping the items with products with the same placeholder images. See below attached image.

enter image description here

At first glanced, using same placeholder images, users might group them as similar product.


enter image description here

In that case, you might just want to use a plain grey box. The sun and mountain suggest a photo of a landscape if you ask me. Just my thoughts.

  • I would think that the images still take some time to load, resp. that some error is preventing the images from loading.
    – unor
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 18:47

In @SimonTeo's case, a much better solution in my opinion is to abbreviate the name/username combined with different background-colors.

If someone's called "Name Namely":

enter image description here

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