What You Can Learn From The Interaction Design Foundation’s Masterful Use Of Stock Photography

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

By: Brian McCrackenbutton to visit the authors linked profile
High Level Developer


  • Stock photography is often overused in web design and can make websites look cheap, and the business they represent as unprofessional.
  • When done well, by design professionals, stock photography can work in some cases.
  • Always have a purpose that drives the use of images in your design. That purpose can be to influence a set of behaviors, or create a feeling around your brand, but be sure it is always clearly defined.

Stock photography is a divisive topic for many web designers and marketers alike.

On one hand, it is commonly recommended to use real photos of your business, employees, and products to create a professional web design that resonates with your customers.

On the other hand, not all businesses have things like a physical location, a large number of employees willing to be on their company’s website, or physical products that you can easily show.

In these cases, stock photography really helps out. The problem is that many web designers use it improperly, and it ends up cheapening the look of a website, among other problems.

The Interaction Design Foundation’s Use Of Stock Photography

The Interactive Design Foundation is a learning platform for user-experience designers. As they don’t have an actual university-type setting that they conduct closes out of, it’s a perfect example of a business that would benefit from the use of stock photography.

Given their line of work, you would probably expect that they would use stock photography well, and they do.

Examples Of Stock Photography Used In Web Design

When you first arrive to the Interactive Design Foundation’s homepage, nothing really stands out about it at first.

idf homepage
Nothing seems to remarkable of the homepage of the Interactive Design Foundation’s website, until you look more closely.

The hero section has an image of a woman that looks fairly average for what you might expect a passionate, engaged professional user experience designer to look like.

Below that, you have some course portal elements, and a little helpful copywriting that encourages you to take action and sign up. This is all done well.

Examining The Homepage Hero Image

When we take a closer look at the hero image, you’ll notice something about it.

a close look of the hero image that shows a female user looking directly at the website's main call to action
The stock photo in their hero section was selected and used so that it look directly at their call to action.

We covered using smiling faces that are looking at your call-to-actions to produce better business outcomes in the past, but this is a wonderful execution of that concept in action.

By having her looking directly at their call-to-action, the website user is also encouraged to look at, and pay attention to, the call-to-action. After all, if someone is staring at something, don’t you always want to know what they are staring at?

The absolutely beauty in this execution of the concept though is the subtleness of the effect.

Unlike other examples that are painfully obvious about what they want you to do, the Interactive Design Foundation uses cognitive psychology to influence their website visitors with a rarely seen level of grace and elegance.

A Bad Example Of Stock Photography In Web Design

The below image is a quick mockup we did to communicate the concept of a pictures main character looking directly at the call to action.

image of a female in a hat looking towards a website's call to action
This example is an obvious use of the technique that is more commonly what is found, and is far less graceful in execution.

While this is obviously a very obvious and blatant demonstration of the effect we were discussing, it is also representative of many marketing creatives that brands use every day to promote their offers.

Examples Of Stock Photography Used On Social Media

Using stock photography on a website is one thing, but doing it on social media is a different challenge al together.

Social media is a very busy place, and we are all overwhelmed by the realms of stock photos we find there as companies scramble to pump out content at mind-boggling rates.

Somehow, they manage to pull off the effect equally as well.

Stock Photos In Facebook Posts

Take a close look at the image below. What are your first impressions?

image of a facebook post using stock photography well
Another piece of stock photography used masterfully

Obviously they are using the eyes of the woman in the stock photo to direct you again, but it’s still done in a subtle way as you may not realize it at first.

The image makes it look like the main subject could be looking at a gift, or Christmas tree, or ornament of some sort.

It’s not obvious and therefore cheap or offensive that the designers want you to be looking at their call to action headline in the image, and that’s what makes it work.

An Example of Stock Photography Used In Facebook Ads

Not stopping there, the Interactive Design Foundation is currently running ads for the user experience courses (which we highly recommend if you are in the field) and again, masterfully executed this with great effect.

example of stock photography being used in a facebook ad
The subtle beauty of this use of stock photography is a shining example of what to do.

In this image, again, we have a subtle confusing about what the main character is doing.

Is he looking towards his future with inspiration and confidence? Or is he looking directly at their call to action?

In this case, the stock photography is used in a way that’s not offensive and blends in well with their overall message and goal of inspiring the creators of tomorrow towards success.


Stock Photography Can Be Used Well In Web Design. Sometimes.

It is impossible to ignore or deny the fact that I’m a huge fan of the use of stock photography in these examples.

You have to keep in mind that these examples were barrowed from a team of professional user experience designers who know exactly what they are doing with their use of stock photography, putting the customers first and ahead of their business goals.

More often than not, stock photography is over used and poorly executed, so be cautious with how much of it you use in your web design. That said, if you’re working with a highly qualified and experienced web designer, don’t rule it out completely. You might be surprised at what they can do.

Do You Have A Web Design That Could Use An Upgrade?

It’s not uncommon for business to start out with sites that use a lot of stock photography just to get off the ground. As your business grows, what served you well in the beginning may not be a great fit any longer.

If you find that your website could use a professional face-lift, reach out and tell us more.

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