Illustration Versus Photography in Web Design: A Comparison
- Rob Toledo
- August 19, 2013
Imagery in web design plays a significant role in communicating a message and dictating an overall tone of a site. The options for using imagery are infinite, but one major choice a designer makes is whether to use abstract illustration or realistic photography. The decision lies in which type of imagery best fits with a brand’s style and communicates its message successfully. Consider the goals of your web projects while comparing photos and illustrations to decide which style is the best choice for you.
Illustrations offer endless opportunity for creativity in your design. They can range from cartoon-like characters to abstract textures. Illustration could be the perfect solution to your web design needs if you’re looking to portray a unique brand personality that leaves a memorable impression or image in your viewer’s mind.
This can be a great way to show your personality, as well as your illustration skills, by depicting yourself in a stylistic drawing. It can represent your brand while providing a personal touch to connect more closely to your clients.
To create a tangible representation of your company that also reflects its attitude, consider creating a unique character or mascot. It can be a great way to expand your branding and create a lasting image for viewers to relate and hold on to.
This style of illustration has the most flexibility and can be used for decorative elements on your website. This can add interest to a page, guide viewers’ eyes or develop visual identity by utilizing brand colors, style and elements.
When It Works
If your brand has a distinctive or whimsical perspective, illustration is a great way to express moods or themes. It engages viewers’ imaginations, rather than simply displaying a realistic take on a subject. It can help you connect on a more personal and lasting point with your audience than you would with a more standardized style.
When It Doesn’t Work
If you’re designing for a company or industry that relies on an image of professionalism and reliability as its main objective, an illustration probably isn’t the best choice – as it can come across as surreal or unclear. And for a website representing a specific and tangible product, you’re better off using photography.
While photos can be manipulated and abstracted to become unrealistic, they are most often used to depict realistic images. Photography can effectively represent an image of professionalism, because a realistic context helps build reliability and peace of mind for users.
Large background photos are great for making an immediate impact on users. By providing a detailed image right away, the tone of the site relies much more on the image than on content. The content must work around the photo to avoid information overload or poor readability.
Using photos simply for texture, on the other hand, allows for a subtler dose of interest that places more emphasis on content.
To create an engaging, image-based layout, photos can be used as navigational elements. Made popular by image-sharing sites like Pinterest, clickable photos have become a popular way of engaging users.
When It Works
Photos can be used for a variety of web design goals, like displaying products and showing them in action or providing a reliable image of a specialized and reputable company (like a bank). They give viewers something tangible or “real” to associate with the brand, and you can effectively bring them into a perspective that you’ve chosen for them with a photo.
When It Doesn’t Work
If your website is communicating about an idea or concept instead of a tangible object or service, a photo will not clearly send your message. These would be situations in which illustrations will be more effective visual descriptions. It’s also important to make sure to use high quality photos to avoid appearing unprofessional or tacky.
Your imagery choices will always depend on the needs of each particular project, but remember to consider your audience and your marketing goals when deciding which style to use. As long as your images effectively communicate your message, your brand will be represented well.
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