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When to use graphics on your website

Overall, using text is more preferrable, than using graphics (images, pictures, Flash and so on) on a website, because it is easier to understand and remember - and also accessible to the people and the search engines. But there are some cases, when using graphics is the right thing to do.

When to use graphics

As mentioned in the earlier article, graphics should only be used, when it is absolutely necessary, such as:

  • when the image is absolutely related to the website
  • when the pictures makes understanding of the text easier (a graph for a table, for example)

As seen from the list, graphics should only be used, when absolutely needed, and its use has to be thoroughly considered, as graphics impose some limits on website performance.

What kind of media to use

The most obvious case of using pictures on your site is when you sell something that people need to see before buying, such as clothes, vehicles, furniture, etc. What is more is that you'd rather use large, high quality images (at about 1/4-1/2 of the screen, the other part being occupied by the description), so that people could look closer at what they are buying.

If you discuss complex schemes, structures and so forth, a graphical explanation would be nice. Not to mention that using simpler language may help, if appropriate.

How to use the graphical content

When creating graphical content, there are a couple of things to remember:

  • everything that is on the image should be available in text (both for the humans and the search engines)
  • the images should have proper alt tags
  • the image size and quality should depend on the product

For example, if you are selling shoes, it'd make sense to be able to rotate them, as, mostly, it is important to look not only at the sides, but also at the sole.

If you are selling clothes, it is usually more helpful to showcase them on real people, not on some background or dolls.

When selling an apartment, you may want to use a video, showing the interior, possibly with your comments. You can host the video on Google Video or YouTube - make sure to leave your coordinates, though.

Another moment to remember is that a 3D box helps selling digital products, even when there is no real box available.

What about the graphical design?

Normally, I'd argue that anything that does not serve the goal of informing the visitor of anything shouldn't belong to a website. And that anything may be extra graphical design, extra images or unwanted sound/video.

In his post about text and graphics balance on a website, Steve points out that a website has milliseconds to impress a visitor.

Some believe that impressing the visitor means absolutely shocking the visitor by something astounding and magnificent, such as a large image of something completely unrelated to a website. As seen from the studies, such banners don't work.

On the other hand, "impressing" means just making an impression, whether positive, negative or neutral. A site, made of text, such as this one, may very well make a quite distinct impression. Hopefully, it has the right audience not to scare it off, though.

So, in the end, it only matters who your target audience is and how you can find the right balance between the use of images and text on a website. You can learn more about the balance of function and graphics in the Sphere of Design and see more examples of good designs here.

Rounding up

While some may want to use graphics just to impress their visitors, it'd rather be used only to help the visitors to get more information and understand what the site talks about.

Finding the right balance between information and visual presentation just for your target audience will prove much more efficient than deciding on your own.

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Comments

Very useful text but I think you could mention something about animation. I mean its great way to attract visitors (everyone loves moving object :-), and its also great for presentation of something (for example rotating T-shirt, very interesting and simultaneously very useful)

I have to disagree about animation. It has to be used only when absolutely necessary, such as showing a clip.

People don't like unnecessary animation - they are great distractors, if they don't add value to undertstanding the content and allow the visitor to get what he wants.

The best thing you can do for a t-shirt photo is to put it on a person (or better yet, of the same gender as the buyer), and make a couple of pictures of it: small, medium, large. Then you link from thumbnails to the large picture so the buyers could look at it. That's it, no animation.

Where 3D graphics could be useful is for shoe shops. One needs to look at all sides of the shoe, while t-shirt shape/form/quality is relatively predictable.

Websites shouldn't be done for being interesting design wise. They should be created interesting for the people, who are looking for information or something (useful) to do. Craigslist looks ugly, has no animation and is somehow one of the most visited sites on the Internet (or at least the most popular classified site).

Thanks for stopping by.

I think you are right, also animations are very slow for loading (especially bitmap based) and require a lot of site bandwitch.

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