graphic design

By Rebecca Swift

In a tough economic climate, it’s more important than ever for small business owners to create a website that stands out and engages new customers in order to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace and shine. How can you create the most relevant and compelling website with strong visuals that represent your company’s values, connect with customers—and are also copyright compliant?

Know your brand before you begin: Before attempting to design a website, businesses must first identify their core brand values. It is essential that these values are reflected in their online presence. As a business, everything you do or say must send the correct message to your audience.

One way to achieve results is to invest in market research where you can ask your target audience what they like to look at. Also, by viewing your competitors’ pictures and their visual language, you can start to improve your own, and see what works and what doesn’t.

Sourcing the best images (and ensuring copyright compliance!): It is understandably difficult to select an image from a collection of thousands. To make it simpler, consider these five aspects when making your selection:

  1.   Purpose – what is the image for?
  2.   Tone – how do you say it?
  3.    Relevance – is the image relevant to the audience?
  4.   Timeliness – how new is the image?
  5. Uniqueness – is your image one of a kind?

Think carefully if you are visually representing your business or the people you do business with on your site. Are the models in the images representative of your company or client base? Do they look real and believable? Do they represent a good cultural mix? If your business is young and lively, are the models full of vitality or if your business offers a confidential service, do the models look approachable and reliable?

All too often, the person choosing the images is not in the target audience for the website, so images should be on brand as much as everything and everyone else that you communicate with.

However, with choosing images, comes the misconception of image copyright. Though the majority of Internet users understand the rules when it comes to downloading music and video, the issue of image copyright is a cloudy matter and yet an important area for small businesses to understand and adhere to, otherwise they risk being over-charged.

A common misconception is the tendency to believe that once an image has been published online, it becomes part of the public domain. This however is not true and images remain bound by copyright. Anyone wanting to use the image further needs to have consent from either the author of the image or – when the license agreement of the social network allows it – the administrator of the website.

By buying royalty free images from sites such as, small businesses can be sure that they are not breaching copyright. More information on this can be found Image users may also find the PicScout ImageExchange application very useful. This free, downloadable tool helps content users find out where they may properly license images they find on the Internet.

Simplicity is the key: Simplicity in design is key to engaging customers on websites, so images need to be kept clear and simple and highlight exactly want you want to say. For example, the simplest design on the Web today is also the site that’s most used:

The imagery is often the last element that is considered – it is seen as “content” to fill a space – but choosing imagery that is impactful because it is interesting, surprising or amusing will engage the customer that little bit longer.

A cluttered site reflects badly on the company so you need to prioritize messages accordingly. The key points – whether in text, image or video format – should be made prominent on the page, while also creating room between elements and scattering images throughout. You’d be surprised how many websites are hard to navigate because the owner has tried to put too much on one page.

Update the site regularly to show that the brand is active: In the online world, content is key. Creating quality content on a regular basis is the most effective way to attract and retain Web traffic. Consistency in visual branding can be attained through using images that have similar conceptual value or similar theme in their composition, color palette, lighting technique or choice of models/location.

One of the best ways to bring more content to your site is to have a blog. Sharing your expertise can be a great way to add content and provide additional value on your website. Other ways could be simply changing some of the featured images and graphics throughout your site to make it feel fresh and revived. Doing this every few weeks can pique interest and allow returning visitors to investigate other parts of your website they may not have explored before.

Rebecca Swift is Head of Creative Planning at iStockphoto, the Web’s original source for royalty-free stock images, media and design elements at an affordable price.