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The value of commissioned imagery

David Curless Creative Director

It was all looking so positive. Dynamic client, interesting sector, decent budget.

And then I read the final paragraphs of the brief: "We use a royalty-free image library. We will not be commissioning bespoke photography for our new website."

With those two sentences, my whole enthusiasm for the project drained away. Why am I being such a design drama queen about this? Because it gives a clear indication of the lack of importance the client is placing on the quality of their content. Just another website viewed as an empty vessel into which they can pour the same old content and job done. We're online.


Imagery is an incredibly powerful and efficient way to communicate complex messages and all of us are hard-wired to understand and analyse imagery in the blink of an eye. That's 50 milliseconds. Or to put it another way, we can process and understand imagery 60,000 times faster than text. So in that blink of an eye, your visitors are making their mind up about your organisation. Do you look credible? Do you look like an organisation they might want to do business with?

We are equally adept at recognising, and dismissing, clichéd stock photography. All those handshakes, water droplets and gleaming white teeth are registered immediately as false and having no real connection to your company and values. Hackneyed imagery of this kind is positively damaging to your brand. It draws attention, in a very public way, to the fact that you either: can't be bothered to think about what you want to tell visitors about yourself; or even worse, you don't even know what it is about your organisation that makes you special.

Either way, you are sending a very negative, muddled message and in today's highly competitive marketplace, customers have little, if any, tolerance of this sort of lazy thinking.

So, if you want to communicate clearly and positively, think carefully about what makes you stand out from the crowd, tell the great stories about yourselves, show your personality (come on, you must have some), decide on the key messages you want your visitors to come away with and get bespoke imagery working hard on your behalf. The care you put into this will place your organisation ahead of the competition. In the end, what you pay for commissioned imagery will be repaid time and again by the benefits it brings to the perception of what you stand for and the values you hold.

Job done.