I have an app that helps users get thing done - sort of an ERP for a particular vertical. There is quite a bit of interaction in there among users, but it's not a social app.

Is there value in a profile photo? If so, should I include it as part of the user identity when showing, for example, lists of users?

Of what use is a profile photo?

  • Photos have deep social significance that impact users deeply. They are the number one product of social media so designers use them without understanding their significance. I would need a long list of pros before I would use photos because the list of cons in a business environment is endless.
    – moot
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 15:28
  • @moot Can you please elaborate?
    – richard
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


Yes! (but it's not what you think)

Let's start with the downside of using profile pictures:

  • Visually they can really clutter up lists and layouts.
  • They are not terribly communicative. For enterprise applications a name is a lot more functional than a picture.
  • You have to figure out how to get users to upload photos without making it a hurdle or an inconvenience (eg don't make it part of sign up)
  • You have to figure out a way to report or moderate inappropriate photos in the workplace.
  • In some workplaces they can be a security risk.

BUT, there is one huge UX benefit which progressive designers like:

It helps humanize the workplace

(when done right).

The benefits:

  • Putting a face to names is good for business culture. Companies are increasingly decentralized and collaboration done virtually, so it's very nice to humanize users in an ERP app. Users are proven to be nicer and more understanding when they are reminded that the other party is a person.
  • It aids social business discovery. Humans are drawn to faces, and users are more likely to click on profile pictures to discover more about a person. This may not help immediate productivity (in fact it may be a distraction), but it is a big positive for a business in the long run because positive network effects and social connections are proven to be positive for business.
  • It sucks to sit in front of a dull soulless machine all day. Personalized interfaces feel better for enterprise users spending all day in front of a computer. It helps (just a bit) to see your face on the top right corner of a screen ....users feel like the machine is acknowledging who they are.
  • There are also some minor security benefits. Users may not notice their name on a navigation bar, but they will readily notice when a profile photo is the wrong person (Ie they're not logged on as the right person). Similarly, users can quickly identify a spoofed sender if the wrong photo is attached to a sender's name.

As with all design, profile photos need to be used judiciously to be effective.

And there are many applications where it doesn't make sense to have profile photos (you haven't provided very much detail on your app).

  • 1
    Great answer. Thank you. For the record, there is no anonymity in this application, so all photos will be valid (no policing necessary). And they all have to have a profile photo because it's part of the vertical.
    – richard
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 3:37
  • 1
    I do agree with these points, but one thing to keep in mind that photos amplify biases.
    – Harshal
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 7:21

I think @tohster answer covers photo usage quite well. So my answer will expand on the subject from a different angle. There are numerous examples of profile photos used within ERP and enterprise solutions in general. For example: Microsoft outlook uses senders photos in email headers and that looks like the mock-up below:

enter image description here

Another example could be found in team communication tool slack:

enter image description here

So the usage of photos in ERP and enterprise solutions is actually common practice. This being said the pros and cons need to be weighed carefully before opting to use profile photos.

Based on the way you framed your question,particularly when you say that your app aims to "help users get things done" and that "There is quite a bit of interaction in there among users, but it's not a social app" it occurs to me that you have the basic ingredients for a gamified process.

Gamification aims to encourage higher levels of participation in tasks, and rewards consistent contributions from participants by tapping directly into our emotions and our instinctive need to have FUN. Simply put teamwork, recognition, problem-solving and collaboration are Fun and profile photos or any other imagery provided instead like "avatars" are key elements in this gamification process.

Enterprises are just beginning to realise the potential of applying game thinking and and game mechanics to business processes. So, allowing users/employees to let some personality shine through is definitely great.

Below is an example of profile photos used in a call centre environment where the aim is to increase call centre employee performance.

enter image description here

I guess overall, using profile photos will largely depend on paramteres you only know like the size of target audience, purpose and nature of collaborative tasks, visibility of participants and visibility of progress towards task completion etc.

  • Great examples! Slack's interface does a really great job of presenting a complex interface with a nice balance between social content and functional minimalism
    – tohster
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 21:28
  • @tohster Absolutely agree! minimalistic, functional and cohesive. Not an easy balance to achieve! I want to try this new tool called Circuit which seems good judging by the video! I Think profile photos help a lot when communication transitions between different devices as in the example of Circuit.
    – Okavango
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 21:57

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