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Matt Lacey: Pictures Play on a Psychological Level

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Read Time: 4 min
This post is part of a series called Conversations With Creative Collaborators.
Another Escape Magazine: Building A Holistic Body of Work

In this series of short interviews we talk to creative professionals to see how they work with photography. First in the series is Matt Lacey, Head of Optimisation at PRWD in Manchester, UK, who specialises in working with brands and e-commerce to improve customer experience.

Hi Matt, firstly, could you briefly explain what you do?

Hi, I’m Matt Lacey, my job title is Head of Conversion at a Conversion Optimisation agency. In plain speak, I help make websites easier for visitors to use and more persuasive in order to help improve user experience, and subsequently help our clients meet their online objectives. I work with a range of high street retailers such as Schuh, The North Face, Vans, Speedo, AllSaints and many other large online brands.

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So how does your work incorporate photography?

We evaluate websites on on a number of levels and using a range of research techniques. Two key areas that we investigate is usability enhancements and opportunities to make websites more persuasive. Photography can be vital to both of these areas.

For retailers, product images tend to be very important. Can you see all the detailing, how manny pockets does a bag have? What can we find out about texture. How does a garment flow on a model? There's a strong body of evidence that improving product images increases conversion, I.e. Helps users to checkout with confidence. Good images may also set better expectations for users and therefore reduce return rates.

Good imagery can be incredibly persuasive. Imagine if you are taking photos for a new homepage banner, you might consider the following different types of photo:

  • Single person
  • Product only
  • Customer / Actor / Family
  • Before and After
  • Photo testimonial
  • Customer + Professional
  • Male/Female approach
  • Detail grid

Some will work better than others depending on your audience, your products, your reputation, and range of other factors.

Consider how you can choose photography that works on a psychological level. Does it evoke empathy? Trust? Try different persuasive techniques. Help the user to envision themselves benefitting or alternatively, show them what they'll be missing out on if they don't buy/sign-up/etc.

Details matter as well. Is the smile clearly faked? People can tell.

How important is the photography when working on a website?

When we review a website we look at every detail, from the core functionality to copy and photography. While photography helps to inform users, it's also really powerful in the way that it draws out emotional responses. In his foundational usability book, Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug has a basic principle of reducing copy/text by a half, and then reducing it by a half again. While concise and carefully crafted copy can be very persuasive, in many situations photography can really capture attention in a powerful way that is hard to achieve with copy.

What is it that you look for when deciding what imagery to use?

We will base part of our decision making about imagery on user research. We spend time talking to users one-to-one and find out what types of imagery appeal to them. We may look at our clients site and compare it with a range of competitors to find out what type of imagery works best for a clients target audience.

How do you judge which images work and which images don’t work?

This is where the power of A/B testing really shines through. It allows us to get empirical evidence that shows us which images perform best. We can test in continuous waves, so we might start with a control page or photo (A) and a variation (B) and test them to find our with works best. If the variation is successful we will create a new challenger (C) and test B vs C. In this way we can continuously fine tune the images we use for optimal performance.

From an web development perspective, what elements should photographers consider when creating images for use online?

Study stock photos. You weren't expecting that, were you? Here's the trick. Try and understand why they don't work. Then do it differently.

For example an ordinary model, warts and all, may be far more believable and trustworthy than an airbrushed model. When you see a model in a headset do you ever believe that it is actually the person you will speak to? 

The other key area to understand is how far you should go creatively. For a small site with a limited range of products it might be feasible to shoot each image in a custom, stylish way. But for a large retailer with a large and changing product catalogue it may be important to have simple consistency over creativity. There is no blanket rule here, on each project carefully consider what is appropriate and manageable.

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