Choosing Imagery for Your Security Awareness Program

By Deana Sergile

Creating or updating a security awareness program is a huge undertaking, especially if you’ve chosen to do it in-house. Plain and simple. Once you’ve assessed and set your program goals, examined your company culture, come to terms with budgetary opportunities, it might feel like you’re running out of steam and lacking creativity. This isn’t the time to stop just yet. You still have to select imagery to help augment your awareness program.


Here a few simple tips to put you on the right path to designing your own compelling and successful security awareness campaigns:

1) Consult Your Brand Guidelines

Let’s start with a short quiz:

  • Do you know your company’s brand colors by their hex codes?
  • Do you know if your corporate branding takes a more conservative or a laid-back kind of style?
  • How about the official fonts for your organization’s brand? Do you know what they are?
  • Are there guidelines around the type of visuals you’re allowed to use?

Get in touch with your marketing department and have them outline your company’s brand guidelines on using images within branded communications. They’ll be able to tell you what your brand hex codes are (A hex code is a way of specifying color using hexadecimal values, starting with a pound or hash sign). They should have guidelines on the style of your overall brand both for internal and external use and will have information on how to use the company logo, fonts, and other visual assets.

Here’s what’s of most value though.

Building a relationship with your marketing team.

Choosing imagery that falls inline with corporate branding standards is important, but for the long-term, building a relationship that will help you in growing a thriving awareness training program will be critical. Take a minute, take some time to get to know the people on your marketing team.

By establishing these relationships, you will be able to kick-off a (hopefully) longstanding partnerships that will give you the ability to best select the visual theme and images that reinforce your program AND your organization’s brand.

Good imagery will help learners to interact with material and messaging they’re already familiar with and will encourage adoption of training concepts. Explain your overall mission with marketing and communicate your theme and ideas. They may already have a library of stock images that can be re-purposed internally.

2) Build Your Image Library

If your marketing department doesn’t have the resources you’re looking for, have no fear, there are many resources on the web for images — both free and paid subscriptions. Websites like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, Dreamstime, and iStockPhoto are great sources for royalty-free images at a pay-per-image or monthly download subscription.
 
 There are also a multitude of free stock photography sites available to find that perfect image for your campaign including StockSnap, Pexels, Unsplash, Negative Space, Burst by Shopify, and Pixabay. It’s important to note, pay close attention to their licenses and usage rights. Though many of these images might be free, some have stipulations that require attribution.

Also, don’t be afraid to get a little creative! These days, most smart phones have powerful cameras with creative image adjustment options. Use yours to create your own “photoshoot” in and around the office. Getting employees involved as your models/actors could be a great, cost-effective way to build your image library.

3) Tie your Graphics and Images to the Topic and/or Campaign Theme

Imagine you’ve decided on your topic for your next phishing campaign. The theme might be “Think before you click,” for example. This theme elicits the impression that a single click on the wrong link changes everything within your organization, click on a phishing email link, and that action alone could expose your organization to a serious security risk.

What images come to mind in this scenario? A suspicious looking person hiding behind a computer, hands on a keyboard, sitting in a dark room? These ideas will help spark your keyword searches for the ideal graphics and images. If you’re imagining something more abstract for your visuals, you could try searching for images with a concept rather than literal interpretations such as “person hesitating” or “decision making. “

When you start your search, you may be overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless images. What is good? What is bad? Which one should you pick?

Ask yourself these questions:

• If your image features people, does their body language look posed or natural?
 • Do people in the image look engaged or exhibit emotion, or are their facial expressions more stiff or frozen?
 • Are object-oriented images, such as a mobile phone or computer, on an isolated background or are they being utilized by people in real-world scenarios?

Learn to speak photography lingo during your search with terms like low angle, silhouette, depth of field, wide angle, long exposure and selective focus. They can be crucial to the style and feeling you striving to demonstrate in your campaign or training session.

4) Seek out Images that are Engaging

Whichever direction you decide to go in with your images, try searching for images that are fresh, engaging, or even humorous. Try to avoid the marketing pitfalls of bad stock images such as “globe on a keyboard” and “business handshake.”

Bad stock photos often look staged and inauthentic, which can be very disengaging for your learners.

Instead, look for imagery that works to evoke emotion. You can do this with imagery that is positive, colorful, and inviting. Unexpected image compositions can also help give a modern look and feel to your campaign.

Remember, program engagement and behavior adoption is what you’re after — if you have a unique image or set of images that hooks your learner’s attention, it’ll will help them remember important training concepts.

5) Include Diversity

Search for images that accurately portray the world around you. You’ll want to select images that represent modern day society, as opposed to a perfected version of the world often offered by marketers. This includes a focus on a variety of ethnicities, genders, age ranges, body types, and so on. Overly stocked-looking images can be a turn off to your learners.

6) Seek Out High Quality Images

Have you ever been distracted by an overly pixelated or blurry image printed or online? It’s distracting. It looks sloppy.

Your online campaign images should never be rendered to less than 72 dpi (dots per inch). Meanwhile, print images should never be less than 300 dpi. When your images aren’t rendered to the right quality or size, you risk losing the credibility of your campaign. It is a small detail that can make a tremendous difference.


While it might seem intimidating in the beginning to take on this project of selecting imagery for your security awareness program, just look at how far you’ve come already in your program planning process. This is the fun part.

I am reminded of a quote I love:

“Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.”
 –Xunzi

These six simple tips can give you the confidence to build not only a stellar security awareness program, but also help you understand how to develop a visually attractive campaign. Involve your learners through a story and visual to deeply engage your learners.


SANS Security Awareness can equip you with the tools you need to market your security awareness program. Learn more.


About the Author

Deana Sergile
Senior Graphic Designer – SANS Security Awareness

Deana has over 20 years experience in brand management and graphic design. She has delivered creative and innovative design solutions for global software organizations with modern, best of breed graphics across all brand touch points. She holds a B.A. in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Atlanta.