Truth and Death in Design

Image choices at - front for Getty's Istock Service

Image choices at – front for Getty’s Istock Service

“One illustration or original photo beats 100 stock images.”

This quote turned up in The Year In Design by. L. Jeffrey Zeldman. Sharp guy and a good article. Go read it. It’s short and every bit of it is spot on and relevant.

And some of it definitely falls into the “easier said than done” category. And the above quote was particularly relevant to my experience as a Designer. I work in both Print and Web Design, primarily for small business clients. Turned out to be a sweet spot for me, a market outgrowing what they can do for themselves in MS Word, or Vistaprint, but small enough to not take all their art in-house or go to a big Agency or Design Studio.

Stock Images are one of my big peeves – and most commonly accessed resources. But with small business clients come small budgets. I have absolutely no doubt that original illustrations or photography are superior to stock photos… But good luck trying to get cash strapped clients to spring for a photographer or illustrator for their project. I AM an Illustrator and Photographer adjunct to my Design work, and I’ve done precious little of it professionally – at least that I’ve gotten paid for.

“Can’t you find something free on the Internet?”

Of course I can find something, but it won’t be free. The meter is still ticking through the time I spend doing a photo searches, trying to find something free to use, appropriate to use, and of decent quality. If I have to spend three hours searching, editing and modding found images, for that money, you could have gotten a decent photographer and done a custom photo shoot.


“Resolution” is the amount of detail an image has. The higher the resolution of your image is, the better and clearer it will appear. While a lower resolution image will tend to be blurry, pixelated or muddy. 50 Design Terms Explained Simply For Non-Designers.

If it’s a print project, good luck finding anything in acceptable resolution. Do a google image search, then refine by SIZE – and three quarters of the results vanish, and remember google’s “large” starts at 1024 px wide. For print at 300 ppi, that’s just over 3 inches. 4 x 6 inches is 1200 px x 1800 px, letter size at 8.5′ x 11″ needs to be at least 2650 x 3400 px – including bleed. Good luck with that. Anyone posting that resolution usually wants to get paid.

And why shouldn’t they? This is someone’s WORK, people.

In addition to 50 Design Terms Explained Simply For Non-Designers, another online resource that goes into this stuff is a slideshare by Photographer Jennifer Janviere, Prepress and File Formats: Preparing Images for Print and “Images on the Screen” in the Web Style Guide, 3rd Edition.

There’s a reason I cry…

…when clients send me stuff they’ve copped off of the web to use for print projects. Sometimes the stuff is from their (or someone else’s ) Facebook page. Images posted on Facebook are JPEG compressed with a hammer. Sometime they send me copyrighted images or even stuff from their competitors’ web sites.

“Can we use this? It’s really cool!”

Oh, frakking Jebus.

Oh HELL, NO! What the hell are are you thinking? How do you feel about getting sued out of business, Scooter?”

Another thing, most free stock material on the web… well it kind of stinks. Not to mention that a lot of the “free photos” sites, are fronts for Stock Photo services. promises over 338,000 free photos and illustrations. 335,00 of them are bland, generic and just scream “cheap stock photo” – and right alongside your image search results they’ll show you “Premium Images from iStock by Getty Images” right alongside the junky stuff.

It’s a racket, I tell ya.

But it’s getting increasingly harder to sell professional work into a space that clients perceive as being “free”. I have a colleague who is a very excellent photographer, but she closed her Manhattan Studio some years ago. With the ascendancy of digital cameras, most of her corporate and business clients gave inexpensive digicams to Production Assistants, Secretaries and Interns, and did all their in-house photos “for free.” Were the pictures as good? Oh HELL no, but it was free. Like running out sales sheets on a crappy HP inkjet, that’s a tough space to make a “getting your money’s worth” argument stick. My colleague has gone on to Art Photography and never looked back. And it’s truly a new world out there, my iPhone 5c has a better camera than the Canon 35mm SLR I was toting in the 1980’s. And just about everyone in the world has one just as good, or better.

I have been able to get clients to at least spring for good stock materials, which I usually heavily mod, composite or customize. But once in a while I have the pleasure of Art Directing a photo shoot, or hiring and Illustrator or creating an illustration for a tasteful client willing to invest in their brand. I think it’s worth it, it’s certainly worth it to creatives. The one thing we want to do more than to do good work, it’s being appreciated and paid for it. But it’s getting rare.

So our market does not begin till our clients want to look better than that, and are willing to pay for it.

This Item is also published on Medium.


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