Years ago, when I first started working online and long before I learned how to design my own sites, I relied heavily on Web templates. I loved them. They made my life easier and they were an affordable option for a new start-up. Over time I came to realize that the most attractive Web templates were also often the most problematic for a new site owner — they relied too heavily on images (stock images to be exact). Today I’d like to talk about how stock images can pose problems for new site owners, and why designers might benefit more from creating less image-intensive designs.
What I Mean by “Stock Photos”
I want to be clear. When I’m talking about stock photos in Web templates causing a problem for the webmasters using them, I’m not talking about images that make up the basic site structure (like buttons or navigation link backgrounds). I’m talking about those creepy corporate smiling faces and very niche-specific photos so many designers love to use.
Most often I see these types of photos used in headers of Web templates. However, I’ve seen a few with stock images peppered throughout. Let’s look at why adding them might not be the best idea.
Why Stock Photos are a Problem
There are a few reasons stock photos can be a problem for people using a Web template. But first, let’s look at a common target market for these templates. Yes, some more experienced site owners still like to use templates and just customize them for their own use. But many Web template users (whether buyers or users of free templates) are new to managing their own websites.
This latter group is important. They can represent a big potential buyer base for template designers. But they don’t necessarily know how to customize designs easily. They might not even have access to software enabling them to do so. For this particular group, stock photos can cause a variety of problems. For example:
- Stock images might be directly integrated with other images in the Web template. Many Web templates don’t even provide the .psd for users to edit layers (not that new webmasters would necessarily know how yet anyway). Sometimes these images are layered over things like textured backgrounds though, and that can make it nearly impossible for the potential buyer to edit the image to something more appropriate for their company’s site.
- Even if you do include the .psd file, it’s likely they don’t know how to edit the images. If that’s the case, they’ll probably buy from someone else. After all, they’re going with Web templates because it’s supposed to be an easy option.
- Potential buyers might love a general design, but stock images represent an entirely different industry. This goes back to them not knowing how to edit the images. They might think it’s an otherwise perfect fit for their site, but if they can’t easily swap things out, they’ll look elsewhere.
Let’s look at a few examples. But let me be clear: I’m not saying any of these templates is “better” than another — just showing examples of potential problems and easier designs to work with from the perspective of a first-time site owner.
This first Web template has a very busy design. It’s visually interesting of course, and that might suck in buyers. But then when they start trying to use it in developing their own site, they might find that it’s not very adaptable to their needs.
This next Web template might look much cleaner, but it still poses image editing problems to a newer user who might either not have the .psd (or other layered file) to work with or the expertise of knowing how to make the changes. The problem in this case is actually the icons and the fact that they overlap other edging in the design. If someone’s given the coded template instead of the editable image for a design similar to this, they might have a hard time using it if they need different icons to be able to use those areas for different types of content.
The next Web template example might look a bit busy like the first one — a heavy emphasis on the visuals. However, because the images used are generic and easily adaptable to any number of uses, this one isn’t too bad for a new user. A sticky note is a sticky note. It’s not like having an icon that represents something specific when you want to put different content in a section. This overall should be an easier template to work with (at least when it comes to images).
Let’s progress a little further to an even easier to use template for new site owners who aren’t terribly familiar with Web design. This Web template is relatively clean. There is only one image to deal with other than the logo in this case. It’s enough to give the template some visual interest, but at the same time it could actually be treated like a block image and be easily replaced with just about anything else relevant to the user’s own site or company.
Remember that appealing to a significant customer base with your templates means that you have to not only focus on keeping the design interesting visually, but you also have to keep usability in mind.
Tips for Designers Who Want to Use Stock Images
If you’re worried about these stock photos turning off potential Web template customers, here are a few things you can do to minimize that problem:
- Use few (or no) stock photos. Instead make the Web template design visually interesting with a great color scheme, generic images (like buttons and icons), and attractive typography choices.
- Try not to use industry-specific images if possible. If a Web template could otherwise be used for any industry or niche, don’t ruin its potential mass appeal with overly targeted stock photos.
- Don’t lay stock photos that people might want to remove over other images or backgrounds. You might make it too difficult for a newbie to change that image.
- Try to avoid stock images with odd shapes. A basic block-style image can be much easier for the user or customer to replace than a complicated image shape.
- Include the .psd. Make the template as easy to edit as possible. Better yet, include instructions on how the user can edit that .psd to change the main stock images in the Web template.
Stock images can make a template visually appealing at first glance, but for customers still new to Web development (those who are also likely to consider templates for their supposed ease of use and affordability) they can also cause problems. You can make it easier on customers, and possibly attract more of them, by keeping those concerns in mind. There’s nothing wrong with using stock images in Web templates. Just keep your target customers’ goals and limitations in mind when designing them.