Myth #8: Stock photos improve the users’ experience

Usability tests and eye-tracking studies show that stock photos and other decorative graphic elements rarely add value to a website and even less to a mobile app. They more often harm than improve the users’ experience.

Such images aren’t related to the topic of the website and don’t hold useful information. Users usually overlook stock images and might even get frustrated by them.


Research and articles on the usability of ornamental imagery:

  • UIE’s user test on the usability of the different types of graphics found out that content and navigational graphics are helpful but ornamental graphics often do more harm than good. – Deciding When Graphics Will Help (and When They Won’t)
  • When comparing the use of images in different layouts, the Nielsen Normann Group found that “Decorative images were looked at less [than informational imagery] and users preferred to ignore them.” – Zigzag Image–Text Layouts Make Scanning Less Efficient
  • Based on eyetracking studies, Jakob Nielsen also observes that “big feel-good images that are purely decorative” are completely ignored – Photos as Web Content
  • An eye-tracking study shows no fixation on decorative images; instead, people look for the content and ignore unrelated visual noise. – Eye-tracking points the way to effective news article design
  • Joshua Brewer discusses how every visual communication should reinforce your message and how fake stock-photos can do you harm. – A picture is worth a 1000 words, except when it isn’t
  • Gerry McGovern shows that marketing images can damage your website – Are marketing images damaging your website?
  • Decorative images are frequently used to emphasize a certain page element but it turns out that this technique often makes the element less visible (see myth #7).