The importance of photography in web design

I like beautiful websites and nicely designed stuff. Design is to me how it looks in the first place, and then how it works. Why? Have you ever bought a red banana, or an ugly shaped tomato? I guess not.

It works like a regular tomato, you can eat it and it tastes the same as a sexy ass tomato. Does it mean it is greatly designed? No, because no one would give a crap if it “works” well if it “looks” bad.

Design is measured with how efficiently a goal is achieved. This goal is relative to who will use the tomato. If the tomato is just to live there without human interaction, it’s bad shape is a sign of great design because it fulfills the inherent tomato purpose of being left growing in its normal habitat and not being eaten.

We are not tinkering about the tomato’s purpose in life though, but about the end users, who will buy and eat the tomato. To them, the badly shaped tomato is an example of a bad design (it is not clear who is to blame but nevermind). They will not buy it because it doesn’t look good or it doesn’t look as expected. It is not a viable choice.

Thus, good design starts with how it looks. It is a necessary condition for people to put an effort in learning how it works. You can replace the tomato with anything you can think of, website, startup, cereals, the same principle applies.

I am thinking about this because I am trying to find a good service to create my websites, but usually end up doing everything from scratch. Let’s take for example those super website builders out there, they offer a ton of templates and structures for you to edit. The templates look awesome, with very nicely selected pictures that fit pixel perfectly with the rest.

You finally decide to use the template, but it comes without pictures, or at least you have to replace them with your own. Once you do that, the website doesn’t look the same and it litterally sucks. Everything seems off. So, you just spent some money (if you’re not enrolled in a monthly subscription billable on a yearly basis) but you still need some cool pictures to fit in your project. You head to the countless free stock image websites out there and try every picture that could eventually fit with your idea.

It still looks like a polished turd though but you keep trying, now with paid stock photos which cost more than the whole subscription plan for the website builder.

The whole thing seems like a ripoff and you don’t quite see what you’ve missed there.

I think the most important parts are never mentionned when using those kind of services. They trick you into believing it is easy to make a beautiful website. Truth is, it is not. It is easy to make your website, but the chances that it will suck are high. Just like penny stock investments.

Now, if you didn’t abandon your project up to now, you want to still make it and you learn you have to do it respecting all the licencing rules and copyrights for images out there, you are slowly getting mad.

Boiling it down, you not only need some cool pictures, but you need some cool pictures that will fit in your template and the whole has to look good in the end. The only problem though, is that all the pictures on the stock photo markets were shot before you started your idea, and again, the chances that you will find a good fit are low. You will have to take the pictures by yourself or find someone to take them for you. If you decide to code your website from the ground up, the constraint of making a picture fit in a template is gone, but then you still need the pictures.

You went through so much shit already now to give up on your idea. And this is how important photography is in web design. It is a key element if you are trying to do something good looking, failing on that will put your website in the category of “badly” designed websites, no matter how it works.

The whole process makes me think that all of this website builder business is really badly designed. It’s like giving you a keyboard and a mouse and asking you to code some bubble sort algorithm by showing you algorithms of other people you could copy, hiding the fact that you still need a computer, a screen and potentially some programming language of choice.

To wrap it up now, making a website is easy. Writing or copying some html from online sources is way easy, there is no copyright on html tags. You can find lots of free hosts that will serve your html. Website builders are just about this, making what is easy obviously easy. The problem though is how to make well designed websites, like you imagine them in your head with pictures and content you want and that suits YOUR exclusive needs.

I believe that this can be solved if the pictures would adapt to the website/template and not the other way around. This means, the pictures have to be taken for this special need, with those special dimensions, and not served on some stock website where the same picture can be used for a t-shirt print and a website banner. Then, comes the structure and actual “functionnality” of the website.

“Design is how it works, not how it looks” is not only misquoted but also misleading. Sure, design is also how it works, but it matters only when you already have a beautiful product and a whole team of people making beautiful things.

So as an advice, always start with the interface, and then do the plumbing.

PS: Also eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day, no matter what :)

Originally published at on September 8, 2015.

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