When you think about UX you’re likely thinking about how your product provides practical answers to the Why, the What and the How that drive a user to interact with it. Simply put, UX builds the product that your customer needs (to complete a specific task), understands (through its functionalities) and likes (for its clarity & enjoyability).

Through each of these stages in a user’s journey, your website or app content must reassure, guide and delight your customer. To achieve this, your UX should make the most of a handful of concepts and ways to communicate with your user.

1. Design is the visual language of your product.

Images from Dreamstime 

When you talk with somebody you instinctively use the best words in your vocabulary to convey your ideas and emotions. You also, generally, do your best to talk in a manner which your partner is most likely to understand. That means using a common vocabulary and adapting your tone and choice of words to the context you’re both in.

Through this process you actually profile yourself and establish the connection. It’s just the same with your design. Every component of your visual interface is a word, gesture or facial expression in your conversation with your actual or potential users.

Defining who your product is and being consistent about it is essential in attracting your target audience and in keeping that audience comfortably engaged with you. You do this by having a clear brand and constantly reaffirming and developing on top of it. Just like in a healthy relationship, communicating through your design is a steady journey and not just a one-time Interaction.

2. Images are what you say when you don’t write.

Images from Dreamstime 

From your homepage (the equivalent of your “Hello, I am…”) to your secondary pages and following through to your product interface, the imagery that accompanies written or interactive content has a big say in your overall statements.

Images in your header section help you create a strong first impression, just like images inserted throughout the rest of the content on any given page help you confirm that impression and also offer quick reading breaks for your visitors.While it’s often appealing to use strong, bright, entertaining images (because we tend to feel that strong images reflect that strength on our brand and everybody wants a strong partner, right?) you should step back from that idea for a while and rethink your visual strategy.

Does that image truly align with who you are and, equally or more importantly, with who your customers are? Are you using striking colors when you’re selling a delicate product? Are you filling your website with industrial themed images when you’re selling life insurance? Are you, perhaps, choosing complex, metaphorical compositions when your main buyers are in a hurry? Also consider the impact your images have on the rest of the content. Are they breaking the balance between your written content, your interactive components (forms, buttons) and your visuals? What is the ultimate purpose for your website?

Always evaluate if any of your design components is overpowering the others or even potentially sabotaging your final objective (such as a disproportionate image which might throw that “Contact Us” button out of sight). Be considerate about the type and the frequency of your images and focus on keeping the communication with your users easy to follow and consistent (no yelling through a 2000x2000px photo of a stop sign). Your images should be effective functionally, as well as emotionally.

Remember that your design should not only represent who you are (or who you would like to be perceived as) but also empathize and reflect the people you are trying to help through your product or service. Design is a dialogue, not a monologue.

Luckily for our decade, the quality and diversity of stock photo libraries make it possible to find any type of resources you need to build your identity and your voice just the right way.

3. Your product should be approachable by anyone and everyone.

Images from Dreamstime

As the web evolves and Internet coverage encompasses the planet, your potential audiences grow and diversify. People of all backgrounds and cultures are joining the conversation and you should plan your design to keep the channel open for a multitude of user types.

There’s been a lot of talk about accessibility in recent years and an increasing number of brands are building or rebuilding their websites and products to be inclusive for different sets of needs.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has plenty of specific standards to guide you on creating an accessible user experience. Here are just a few basic recommendations to keep in mind for your design:

● Image clarity

The quality of images presents on a website or within an app should always be high. This not only addresses the needs of users with a variety of eyesight conditions, it also gives your flexibility to adjust content to multiple types of devices and screen sizes.

Stock photo libraries can help you manage this with images ranging from the smallest sizes (think 480x200px and 72dpi) to full on retina quality (upwards of 4000px or 5000px and 300dpi).

● Readable contrast

Whether it’s plain text sections or if you’re adding text over an image, always consider giving your primary information the right amount of contrast with its background.

You can refer to the recommended contrast ratios promoted by W3C, depending on the type of text:

  • Small text – use a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 against the background
  • Large text (meaning sizes starting at 14 pt bold/18 pt regular) – use a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 against the background

Choose complementary colors for your text and images and simply use a filtered search in a photo library to find the best matching images.

● Use captions

This is a healthy advice not just for SEO purposes or as backup solution for whenever a display error might occur. It is primarily an accessibility requirement for people with visual impairments, who will access your content using screen readers. To help them understand your information and use your product make sure you include alternative text or a caption for each image (or at least the important ones).

4. It’s ok to have a multifaceted personality.

Images from Dreamstime 

Some of the most fascinating people in the world display complex personalities, with multicolored aspects as opposed to a linear typology. It’s also known to happen to brands, big or small.

Depending on the event, the moment in a user’s journey or the medium in which you communicate with your audience, it’s perfectly cool to use more than one type of visual element. That is to say that there is no problem or contradiction if you want to blend photographs, illustrations, animations and infographics on the same website.

In fact, plenty of designers use a mix of elements and there’s just one very important thing that draws the line between a good mix and a poorly executed one: intention.

Intention means that you are designing keeping in mind that each element present on your a website or in your app must be relevant and helpful to a particular goal. Don’t add images or illustrations just to fill a blank space (and risk returning the user’s attention from product information) and don’t publish infographics just because they’re trendy. Always align your visuals with your brand.

Use each element to keep the conversation going with your users and to keep them engaged in their product discovery journey.

And as a rule of thumb, here’s how we suggest using 3 of the most popular visual Assets:

  • Photographs – They truly shine when used to highlight product features (depending on the product type), to introduce certain entities (such as your team members) or to present events and stories.
  • Illustrations – They are exceptional when used to present concepts or metaphors and as micro-interactions (think buttons, toggles, empty states). They are also the perfect choice for app screens, as they can add emotion without disrupting a user’s experience.
  • Fonts – Yes, fonts are visual assets too. And they will make or break your conversation with your users, literally (double pun). Fonts work in pairs too and there’s a general recommendation that you should only use 3 or 4 in any given design. You can certainly use different fonts for main texts, headlines and text overlays but make sure they’re harmonized, readable and efficient on multiple screens.

And just like images should highlight your written content, fonts should act like a crystal clear voice for your information.

Whether you’re looking for assets to integrate in your brand design or searching for specific visuals for a campaign or event, stock photo libraries now provide all types of assets – photos, illustrations, fonts, videos, UI elements and many more. All you need is a “shopping strategy”.

5. Keep your brand voice authentic when speaking in public.

Images from Dreamstime 

So, we’ve talked about how to build your design on your own domain or product. But you’ll also frequently go outside your territory to engage the wider audiences – on social networks, forums, blogs, 3rd party websites.

Your design should extend and adapt itself to meet these occasions. Branded social content has been a must for years and that’s a trend we likely won’t see changing soon. What did change, however, in the past 2 years, is the public’s preferred format for social content. Ephemeral content, specifically stories (on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube) is now the most consumed and most efficient type of social content.

And because its character is in its name (ephemeral), constantly generating highly polished content for social media channels can quickly become a heavy financial burden.

Once again there’s a simple and outstandingly efficient solution to this challenge: stock photos, videos and templates. All you must do is focus on your actual message and in keeping your design and voice consistent.

Ultimately, user experience is an ongoing process. It grows and changes with your product and your audiences, developing as you learn more about your customers and as you build or rebuild features and interfaces. Your design may also change, to adapt to new audiences or new brand personas. What should remain constant, however, are your dialogues with your users and your Flexibility.

When you design user experiences, you’re influencing the time, emotions and results that your users invest in discovering your product or service. In more and deeper ways than ever before, designing products and building UX is a social and ethical element of everyday life. And though that may sound a little bit intimidating, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to improve lives and leave a positive mark. Design is no longer about pretty wrapping papers, it has evolved into a meaningful force.

To remain focused on your mission and lean in your UX process, consider concentrating your resources on (thoroughly researched) product development and revert to cost-efficient sources to fuel your design. And that’s exactly where stock photo libraries fit your journey and make it easier.

This article was written by Clif Haley, who is a SEO pro and is currently working for Dreamstime, one of the top stock photo agencies. When he’s not exercising his expertise in SEO, he’s often hiking and likes the great outdoors.