The theme of this month’s issue is digital asset management, a technology that I know very little about. What I do know is that they help web managers manage photographs, videos and other graphic media assets, so let me offer some reflections on these.

Over the last few years the default screen size has increased quite substantially, giving more space to use for high-quality photographs. Now we are faced with decreasing screen sizes as we deliver to tablets (of various sizes) and smartphones.

Will it still be as important to fill the screen with images? I have great difficult trying to understand what sort of conversations go on behind the scene when decisions are made to enliven a website homepage with photographs.

On a Carousel

Let me take the University of Leeds, one of the largest universities in the UK, as an example. A substantial proportion of the home page is filled up by a carousel of five photographs and a black rectangle that is a video waiting to happen -- if only you could see the start button.

The overlaid messages are good ones, but just what do the photographs add to the messages? Of the five, three could have been taken at almost any university in the world. Looking at the website on my iPad the carousel display takes up almost 50% of the screen and the video does not work because it needs a Flash player. In addition, the sheer screen weight of the photographs almost blinds the user to the top level navigation, and some important navigation is below the fold.

I’ve picked on Leeds because the carousel is a feature of most of the top-level pages of the site. Go on to this page and see how the inserted video (Flash again) has compromised the headings of the categorized list of news stories.

No. 56 of Jakob Nielsen’s Home Page Design Guidelines emphasizes the need for graphics to show real content, not just to decorate the homepage. Far too many web managers seem to feel that pictures make a home page look attractive, and never look at how many people arrive at their sites through Google and miss the photo gallery.

So just what is the point? I’m not suggesting that website pages should not have images and videos, but they must add value to the content on the page.

On the Desktop

Intranet home pages inevitably need to be more navigation-rich, so space is limited. So why do so many intranet news pages have a thumbnail photo next to each summary of a news item?