stock photo of a hand, butterflies, stars, who knows what else is going on here?
PHOTO: shutterstock

I’ve been asking people to send me examples of where digital government is working well. I’ve been getting lots of great examples but some maybe not so good. One suggestion was a link for a website in a language I don’t speak. When I clicked on the link I was confronted with one of those typical big images that you see on so many websites. I thought to myself: I’m going to try and understand this website based on its images.

The big image was of a well-dressed, middle-aged woman walking down the street while talking on her phone. I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat. Hmm … Something to do with telecommunications, perhaps? Why would they choose a woman, instead of a man, or a group of women and men? She’s married, I deduced by looking at the ring on her finger. What is that telling me? And what about her age? Why isn’t she younger or older? And why is she alone? Questions, questions, but I’m no Sherlock Holmes. I couldn’t deduce anything.

I scrolled down the page. Ah, three more images. The first one is a cartoon-like image of a family on vacation. Hmm … The next one is of two men and one woman in a room. One of them has reached their hand out and placed it on something, but I can’t see what that something is, because the other two have placed hands on top of the hand. It’s a type of pledge or something, a secret society, perhaps? Two of them are smiling and the third is trying to smile. What could that mean? And then the final picture is of a middle-aged man staring into the camera, neither smiling nor unsmiling, with a somewhat kind, thoughtful look.

I must admit after perusing all the visual evidence I have absolutely no clue what this government website is about. So, I went and I translated it. It’s about the employment conditions and legal status of government employees. Now, why didn’t I deduce that from the images? I’m sure Sherlock would have cracked that puzzle.

The web is smothering in useless images. These clichéd, stock images communicate absolutely nothing of value, interest or use. They are one of the worst forms of digital pollution because they take up space on the page, forcing more useful content out of sight. They also slow down the site’s ability to download quickly. In the last 10 years, webpages have quadrupled or more in file size, and one of the primary reasons for this is useless image proliferation. If organizations are filling their websites with these useless, information-free images, are they also filling their websites with useless, information-free text? Are we still in a world of communicators and marketers whose primary function and objective is to say nothing of value and to say it as often as possible? And whatever you do, look pretty.

“Hello?”
“Hello. Is that the Department of Useless Images?”
“Yes.”
“We have this contact form and we need a useless image for it.”
“How about a family cavorting in a field of spring flowers with butterflies dancing in the background?”
“Perfect.”

They say a picture paints a thousand words but sometimes it’s a thousand words of crap.