“Stock photography” is not a four-letter word. (Though “clip art” probably is.) It’s possible to bring your digital marketing and collateral materials to life without spending a fortune — or looking like you’ve spent nothing at all. Here are some tips for better visuals.
Writers Are Not Designers
At least, most writers aren’t. Some writers do have a good visual sense. But even if you’re blessed with a writing team full of museum-level illustrators or photographers, you’re better off having a visual pro on your team, as well. Not only is that person likely to produce better visuals, but a second set of eyes naturally provides a different perspective.
That additional perspective can be valuable. If your designer comes back and says, “I’m not really sure where to go with this, visually,” it’s a good sign that perhaps the content isn’t as clear as it could be. (Which might also point to the need for writing and editing roles to be handled differently.)
Give Designers a Seat at the Table
Taking this one step further, you’ll want to involve designers early and let them shape the finished product. Design will obviously be central to an infographic, a video, or any other inherently visual medium. But even for case studies and other copy-centric content, the design team should be given the opportunity to help shape the finished product. In other words, don’t bring them at the end with instructions to “do the best you can with this.” Let them help you make it better from the start.
Stock Imagery Isn’t Either/Or
When it comes to fine clothing, your choices aren’t just right of the rack vs. full custom. You can also have a ready-made suit tailored to fit you better. The same is true of graphic elements.
Your design team can combine multiple images to get the effect you need. Or even simply process an image to create a cohesive similarity across a series of blog posts, case studies, or brochures.
Stay on the Right Side of the Rules
I hope I’m not pointing out something new by telling you that most stock imagery requires a license. Tools for tracking down unauthorized usage has become much more sophisticated, so don’t think nobody will notice an unlicensed image, just because it’s not font-and-center on your home page.
One often overlooked detail: making sure that the license allows you to use it as you plan to. And if you plan to alter the image, that makes a difference. Not all licenses allow alteration, nor do all licenses permit any kind of usage.
And please don’t even think of doing a basic Google search and using any old image that shows up. That doesn’t mean it is a public domain image. You’re far better off using a tool like the Google Advanced Image Search, which allows you to filter results by usage rights, along with many other useful parameters.
In the end, there’s no substitute for a talented and experienced graphics pro. But if budget or other constraints make adding one to your team unrealistic, consider at least bringing in a designer as a one-time or occasional consultant who can create guidelines that help you avoid cliches, overly literal imagery, and those shiny happy people who all but scream “clip art.”