What you'll learn to do: Discuss how to most effectively use images in business messages and identify potential sources for these images

We’ve already looked at compelling evidence that visual media helps your audience better understand your message. Visual media can help you capture your audience's attention and even persuade them to understand your point of view. So let’s use some visual media!

Before we jump right in, we want to learn how to use visual media correctly. In this section, we’ll discuss images—that is photos, drawings, and other multimedia pictures—and how they are best incorporated into your communications. We’ll use our visual communication plans to put those images to work for us and get the best results. And then we’ll talk about some resources to find images for your communication projects.

Learning Outcome

  • Identify types of images used for business messages
  • Describe how to determine when to use an image and when to use text
  • Discuss how to legally source images for your communications

Images Overview

When creating a message take a moment to you ask yourself, "Would including an image strengthen or support the message more than text alone?" Studies show that content that includes images get up to 94% more views than content without images. Users are 40 times more likely to share visual content on social media, and consumers are 80% more likely to read a piece of content if it contains colorful visuals.[2]

In short, visual images can greatly increase the comprehensibility and understandably of a message.

But how do you choose the right picture to match your content? We should apply the visual media standards we discussed earlier:

  • The image should be clear and simple
  • The image should have the same look and feel as the other images in the document
  • The image should persuade the reader (or at least capture some feeling)
  • The image should fit with your company’s brand.

PRactice Question

Let’s take a look at each of these by checking out the websites of some companies you’re familiar with.

Clear and Simple Images

A company that has a clear and strong visual identity is Apple. Apple is a technology company committed to bringing the best computing experiences to its customers. The clear, clean look of Apple's website conveys a message to the customer: Our technology is sleek, bold, easy to use.

Screenshot of Apple's iPhone X Website homepage. Figure 1. Apple's iPhone X website

The iPhone X promotional website screen (Figure 1) features an eye-catching smear of colors, something that draws the viewer’s attention but doesn’t compete with the product itself. Imagine if the iPhone X screen featured a photo of a child, or a cute pet. Would you be looking at the product then, or the content on the phone? Clean and simple images help you convey a singular idea.

Conversely, Figure 2 shows a website that sells new and gently used electronics. Considering this company is trying to sell multiple types of products on one platform, what type of impact factor does it have? How would you compare the impact of this website to Figure 1?

Screenshot of the Swappa website homepage. A search engine bar is near the top, while features of electronic products like iPhones, Smartphones, Video Gams, Home Tech, Laptops, and Tablets are listed near the bottom. Figure 2. Swappa's website

Uniform Images

Chrysler is an automobile maker founded on the principle of “design with purpose,” and their mission is to build cars people will enjoy driving and want to buy again. Figure 3 shows a screenshot of the homepage of Chrysler's website; here the company is using the layout and composition of the images to showcase a wide selection of items to explore here—all while doing it in a way that’s interesting to the eye. In the top row we have three of their top-selling vehicles, shown in a uniform format: all shot in the light of the afternoon from about the same distance, all of them positioned at an angle with the front of the car pointing to the right, all of them suggesting the car is in motion.

The next row features two of their vehicles in the center of human interaction – one with a dog and one with other humans, and a black box beneath each to frame written content. Note that the third box is uniform in that it’s a black box for text, but it instead features they Kelly’s Blue Book logo. A break in the pattern! Did you notice that box first?

Screenshot of Chrysler's website listing their different car models. Figure 3. Chrysler's website

Figure 3 is actually the bottom of Chrysler’s webpage, and the black also adds that “weight” to the design, drawing the viewers' eyes down to the bottom of the page, adding some insurance that they’ll read the whole page. If the images in Figure 3 weren’t essentially “alike” it’s likely the viewer would avoid looking that far. If you’re using multiple images in your communication, take the time to make sure they’re visually similar.

Now let’s take a look at a website that doesn’t use similar images or uniform layout on its front page (Figure 4). How does the visual representation of products impact your desire to purchase a product from the company? In Figure 4, no two images are alike, and the audience doesn’t really know where to look—not a very successful use of images.

An overwhelming hodge podge of products from's website. Figure 4.'s website

Persuasive Images

As a nonprofit organization, UNICEF relies on donations to work towards their mission of ending preventable child deaths. This puts them in a unique position where their main business messages must be persuasive enough to inspire people to donate money to supporting their quest. In UNICEF's main homepage (Figure 5) the viewer is presented with a compelling image. Here you have have four young children depicted as happy little kids, just as they should be. The message this image is trying to project is that donor's money put to good use and that by supporting this organization UNICEF creates results.

Four boys in yellow coats looking out the window of a blue building on Unicef's homepage. The slogan reads, Figure 5. Unicef's homepage

Other design elements to note are the colors on their site (Figure 5). The entire photo, with the exception of the children, the image has been digitally altered so that the building has been re-tinted blue. The altered image now aligns with the colors associated with the UNICEF brand. The brand color is then contrasted by the children's bright yellow raincoats. Not only do the yellow raincoats stand out and catch your eye, but the color yellow is most associated with happiness. The effects of color on an image can have a large impact on how a brand, or image connected to a message, is perceived by viewers.

Now look at the homepage from another nonprofit organization—Ferndale Cat Shelter website (Figure 6). Take a close look at the main image from their homepage and think about what underlying message the image is trying to convey and which emotions is it trying to evoke.

Screenshot of Ferndale Cat Shelter's website homepage. The title reads, Figure 6. Ferndale Cat Shelter's website

In Figure 6, you see the image of a cat looking sleepy and content against a brown blanket. Due to the darker or shadowed nature of the photo it makes the viewer struggle to connect a message to the image and can make it difficult to feel a particular emotion towards the felines at the shelter. While you might have difficulty seeing the cat, the overall monochromatic use of brown and tan presents a stable, comfortable, or safe space for rescued cats. With a different image or use different colors or tones to make the subject of the photo stand out this non-profit could have made a stronger visual image to project their message and persuade the audience to offer their monetary support.

On Brand Images

“What can brown do for you?” That’s the retired slogan United Parcel Service (UPS) used to show its customers that their company can solve client's shipping problems. The current slogan, "We (heart) logistics," similar to the “What brown can do for you?” slogan still needs something more doesn’t it? In fact, it requires visual media to support their message.

On the homepage of UPS United Sates' website (Figure 7), the top of the page is headed with their logo and that trademark UPS brown. The image they’ve chosen is a clean and simple photo of two people in a “small business” situation. One is reviewing the contents of a box, perhaps getting some items ready to ship. The other is at the computer, perhaps checking shipping rates right here on the UPS website. The composition of the photo is a complimentary brown, with stand-out colors in the subjects’ clothing that match UPS’s secondary color palette. The background of the photo suggests a small business, but it’s out of focus so your attention is drawn to the two individuals and their activities.

Screenshot of UPS's homepage. There is an image of a couple unpacking and looking on their laptop. The slogan on the homepage reads Figure 7. UPS's homepage

This could be considered a successful representation of the UPS brand. The image suggests that UPS is supporting the work of a small business. The image is composed of all the right colors so it’s not distracting and supports the overall brand idea. This image is saying, “This is what brown can do for you.”

On the other hand, take a look at a website for a children’s juice manufacturer Penny Juice (Figure 8). Upon first impression this homepage does not convey any clear message about its brand promise or what the company stands for:

Screenshot of Penny Juice's website. Figure 8. Penny Juice's website

In fact, the cartoon figures and garish use of colors might lead the audience to have a difficult time identifying the product. As a viewer you might have ideas or suggestions for how to convey the message of "We sell juice for kids!" in a more effective manner. Possibly a cartoon of a smiling child drinking a sippy cup full of juice or images of fruit would be a better hint. This current visual does not efficiently communicate brand.

When you measure your images against the visual media standards we put in place in section one of this module, you increase the chance that your message will be effective.

Using Images for Impact

If a picture were really worth a thousand words, the issue of image versus text would be easily decided: use an image. That’s a thousand less words you have to write. Yet in the real world, the winner of “image versus text” isn’t as easy to determine. Both play a vital role in your communication efforts.

When to Use an Image

Use an image if the information is presented verbally. Are you preparing a PowerPoint presentation for a speaker? If so, you’ll want to stick with mostly images in your presentation. While you always want the audience to listen to the speaker, images actually help drive home the point the speaker makes and increases the memorability of that point as well. Therefore, you should use images that support the subject matter. Steve Jobs was famous for his image-based presentations. Watch "Steve Jobs Unveils the Original iPhone". Most TED Talk speakers follow Steve Jobs’s speaking style with regard to visuals. For an example, see "What a Planet Needs to Sustain Life" by Dave Brian.

Use an image if the information is complicated and can be better explained in a visual format. You may be charged with explaining the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. You can prepare an enormous amount of text to review the process of each and hope that your audience understands, or you can reduce the text and use the photo in Figure 1.

A digram comparing nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Figure 1. Nuclear fission compared to nuclear fusion

Use an image when it conveys something words just cannot. You may try to describe the northern lights to your reader, but he won’t truly understand the beauty of the aurora borealis until he sees it for himself. Images can also convey the emotion of a situation in ways words often can't. For example, you can tell people to adopt shelter dogs, but a sweet puppy face looking out beseechingly from a cage will grab people's emotional attention in a way the idea on its own can't.

When to Use Text

Use text when you want to make a powerful point. If you want to leave your audience with a thought like “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” (Malala Yousafzai), using text has far more impact than just showing a picture.

Use text when you’re creating a list or a mnemonic. Is your company a fan of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely) goals, or do they employ the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) candidate interview technique? It’s difficult to even discuss these without text.

Use text when an image just isn’t enough. And that’s a lot of the time! Prehistoric man used images to tell his story on the walls of caves, but words were invented for a reason, and that reason is that images can be limiting. Complex processes may be better served by a simplifying image, but in just about every other instance, complexity is better served with words.

Practice question

Using Images Legally

All of the images you see on the internet are someone’s property, and if you copy them and paste them into your communication, you're most likely stealing (unless the images are royalty-free or free, as we'll discuss below). Additionally, the Fair Use Act makes it okay to use an image "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research….” If your work falls into one of those categories, you’re safe. Otherwise, your use of the image is considered a violation of copyright law.

Practice Question

Royalty-Free Images

Luckily, there are royalty-free sources of images, videos, and other visual media out there. (A royalty is a payment made to the copyright owner for each use that doesn't fall under the Fair Use law.) A word of caution: “royalty-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “free.” On the contrary, sites like Getty Images or Shutterstock often charge licensing fees and even instructions by which you give the original artist credit for his or her work. But once that transaction is complete, the visual media is yours to use as you wish. There’s no need to pay royalties for copies sold or time of use.

Open Images

There are plenty of free sources out there, though. Some authors and artists have "released" their works under an open license. This means their works are free to use, modify, and share.

Many of them work with a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a US not-for-profit organization that’s devoted to expanding the range of creative works available to the general public, and it does so by providing copyright licenses to creators allowing them to express which rights they want to reserve and which they waive. These licenses replace individual negotiations between artist and user. In many cases, images covered by the Creative Commons license can be used free of charge if you simply credit the artist. This might mean captioning your photo with “Joe Photographer/Getty Images” or “Credit: Joe Photographer.” You can learn more about the different Creative Commons Licenses on their site.

All of the images and text in this course are licensed under a Creative Commons license. You can check out the "Licenses and Attributions" link on any page of this course to see examples of proper attribution of Creative Commons works.

A screenshot of the Licenses and Attributions section of a Lumen Learning course page. Figure 1. Example of attributing an author's work

Finding Open Images

  • Pixabay:There are over a million free stock photos to choose from on this site, all high quality and high resolution.
  • Unsplash:This site has a great selection of business photos to choose from. This website has the option of signing up for an email service to get ten free photos in your inbox every ten days.
  • Flickr:There’s a section of free use photos here as well, about 415 million of them under the Creative Common license. You simply need to filter your Flickr search by license (Figure 2).

A screenshot of the Flickr website with the permissions drop down menu open. The items on the menu include, Figure 2. Filtering Flickr for permissions

  • Google Images. A simple Google image search now has the function of searching for image based on usage rights. Click on "Tools" and then the "Usage rights" will appear for you to choose the type of license that fits your needs.

A screenshot of the Google Images page with the Usage Rights dropdown menu open. Options include, Figure 3. Filtering a Google Image search by license

  1. Desmarais, Elle. "\"Make Your Content Engagement Skyrocket.\" Contently. 21 Mar 2018. Web. 28 Jun 2018."
  2. Desmarais, Elle. "\"Make Your Content Engagement Skyrocket.\" Contently. 21 Mar 2018. Web. 28 Jun 2018."

Licenses and Attributions