by Adam Noar
You would think that it would not take a genius to realize that some stock photos just plain old suck. And yet, no matter how trite, overused, or ugly some stock images are (to be fair, this goes for many of them), they still pop up time and time again like the zits you struggled with for those dreadful years in middle and high school. Faceless and weird aliens materialize for no apparent reason. Technology is mysteriously represented by fluttering little email icons or other weird images. Somehow the same person’s face crops up over and over again in various stock image queries. Gigantic 3D puzzle pieces make cameos, and fake business teams gather around fake meeting tables to discuss fake business, fooling no one into their authenticity. Hopefully the images that you are about to see will immediately evoke feelings of revulsion and disgust, but in case you feel ambivalent—or Heaven help you, you think they look good—this list of five of the worst stock photos will reinforce good image curating habits when designing your next PowerPoint presentation, Keynote slide, or any other type of content that you create which utilizes images.
1. The Faceless Alien
Egads, what is this hideous creature you have decided to summon forth from the nondescript depths of stock image hell? There is no knowing what those asexual-looking beings are supposed to be, or what they are doing. If they had faces (they do not, which makes them even freakier looking) they would probably have six eyes or mouths lined with razor-sharp teeth, like Pennywise the Clown from It.
It is uncertain what the faceless aliens are supposed to be doing. Presumably they are hammering out the details of their agreement to peaceably divide Planet Earth between their two gray and repugnant races, and their handshake represents the downfall of all of humanity to this strange four-fingered species of interstellar beings. On the other hand, maybe one is congratulating the other for successfully navigating the especially challenging Sector 7 of the Blort System using his Ujiggyer Craft in record time, to which he replies (telepathically, of course, since remember he doesn’t have a mouth), “Aw shucks Bob, it wasn’t much, really.” Who knows.
What I do know is that this abomination of a stock image should be kept in quarantine and as far removed as possible from any PowerPoint presentations you design or any other occasion where you decide to use images to supplement your content. There are plenty of images depicting actual human beings that do not look like some sort of creepy grayscale version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, so why not take an extra few seconds and do an image search for something else? Is it so hard to find an image of two people (with faces) shaking hands instead, or having a cup of tea, or whatever it is you want them to be doing? Your presentation will look better and everyone will love you.
2. This Is What Technology Looks Like
Put quite simply: No, it does not. Technology does not look like a bunch of email envelopes flying like a deranged nest of angry neon bees off the keyboard and into your viewing space as you reel away with horror. Heck, even without the crazy email envelopes it would still look kind of weird, like a freeze-frame from a montage in a CSI episode where someone is furiously researching some crucial yet overlooked piece of evidence in the denouement of the show. Why would you want to give your viewers the impression that some horrible truth was about to be revealed? While it may be true that technology does indeed usually involve computers in some way or another, there is no reason to make it look like it does in this stock image.
Instead, if you want your viewers to associate an image with technology, try to use an image that incorporates something technologically sophisticated, like the latest version of the iPad or perhaps if you are feeling ironic, sharks with friggin’ laser beams attached to their heads. But please, refrain from using this absurd pastiche of translucent email icons that belongs nowhere except for a museum exhibition on archaic graphics from the time when we referred to the Internet as the World Wide Web. Unless, of course, your presentation is actually a list of outdated and passé stock images that people back in the 1990s used and email was the coolest, hippest thing ever.
3. The Everywhere Girl
No doubt you have seen this face before.
She is, after all, EVERYWHERE. While Everywhere Girl is no doubt pretty, so are a gazillion other people out there. And yet when you type in ‘smiling woman’ on Google her face is guaranteed to pop up.
It is as baffling as it is kind of creepy. Her smile is toothy enough and she has some fantastic dimple action going on, and yet somehow her eyes are still basically vortexes that will suck you straight down to the seventh circle of Dante’s Inferno. It begs the question: what sort of situation would you want to use this stock image in the first place? Tooth whitening services? Customer support for a multinational computer parts company (although given that she is without a headset, she clearly can’t be a support specialist)? Maybe an advertisement for a singles’ only romantic liaison website, the kind that pops up when your browser cookies know that you’re a little lonely and looking for something to fill in the time on your otherwise empty Wednesday night? The true problem with Everywhere Girl is that she has been seen before in presentations a million times. Therefore, the idea you are pitching may be distracted by people trying to remember all the other times they have seen this familiar looking girl before.
Surely there must be a purpose to The Everywhere Girl’s vexing existence; alas, there is no way to know for sure what that might be. What is clear is that there are much better alternatives to utilizing this overused model. If your content requires the use of a female headshot, why not just look for a less-used face. Or better yet, take your own photos—you will be pleasantly surprised how far a non-airbrushed, non-contrived image goes. There is something that you simply can’t replicate in an authentic photograph of someone, and chances are it will look better supporting your content that the Everywhere Girl ever could.
4. Stupid 3D Puzzles
The evil offspring of the faceless alien, this image combines the horrifyingly blank-faced humanoids of our nightmares with bizarrely oversized puzzle pieces that match the color spectrum of the Google logo. It can be deduced that the message behind this image is some kind of paragon of teamwork or collaboration. Four figures hold out a different piece of the Google puzzle, on the verge of locking them into place, and presumably when they do so all of humanity’s problems will cease to exist. Huzzah! Peace at last!
But in actuality, this scenario raises some disturbing questions: If the aliens have no faces and presumably can’t see, how long have they been trying to line up these puzzle pieces? Have they just been wandering about the endless white abyss they call home, puzzle piece held out like a delivery pizza box as they search for the matching pieces which will unify the four of them? Were there other faceless aliens with other matching puzzle pieces before, but did they get lost along the way? Since the aliens have no way to look, talk, or hear, how is it that they all know to position themselves exactly perpendicular to each other to ensure that each puzzle piece fits in perfectly?
As you can see from this terrible rabbit hole which we inadvertently fell into, some stock images can lead you down to depths you never presumed existed. Therefore it really is for the best if you avoid using these types of images.
If you must settle on a stock photo that is meant to convey collaboration, teamwork, or holding delivery pizza boxes up in groups of four, you have PLENTY OF OTHER OPTIONS to do the job for you. You might consider finding an image of sports players in action, such as a scrum of rugby players locking perilously close onto each others’ intimate anatomies and surging forward; a burly group of offensive lineman pressing their gargantuan weight into equally gargantuan defensive linemen; or maybe a team of valiant pizza delivery boys carrying those huge insulating bags full of stuffed crust pizza as they march up to the door of a customer’s house with slabs of cholesterol-raising pepperoni pizza waiting to be gorged upon by a horde of slobbering ten year olds at a birthday party. Basically anything is better than the 3D puzzle aliens, so put in a tiny bit more research and look one more time in your stock image database before you decide to use these faceless little horrors in your next presentation or blog post.
5. The Fake Business Team
Fake business team stock images seem to be all the rage for anything from Fortune-500 investment brochures to industry-specific tradeshow websites, but they always seem to feature the same overused composition of a group of people huddling around a table, a whiteboard, a graph (inevitably there is an arrow pointing upwards) or a laptop. Usually the group is dressed in what I like to call Homogenous Business Formal—that is to say, slacks and button-up for the men, and business suits or blouses for the women. Almost all the colors they wear are neutral, or perhaps blue. The demographics of the group are oftentimes more diverse and politically correct than the actual makeup of whatever company they are supposed to represent, what with the four different ethnicities and equal number of men and women on display in the image.
Obviously there is nothing more fake than putting forward a stock image of what is supposed to be a representation of your business team, and fakeness won’t win you any points. A much better, simpler, and honest alternative is to have your actual business team pose for photos (extra points if you just take someone’s iPhone and hook it up onto a selfie stick) and then use those instead. Unless you work on Wall Street, chances are you probably have a much more relaxed dress code than the one the folks in those staged shots are forced to comply with, so there is no reason to dress any differently for your made-from-scratch business team photo. Also, maybe your office is not 50/50 in terms of women or men. Maybe you actually do have a token ethnic minority guy (or, what do I know, a token white dude). There is no need to pretend to be something you are not. There will never be a time when it is preferable to use an artificial photo of a business team rather than the real one, so stick to reality and avoid using a stock photo to represent your company doing business-y things.
Hopefully you get the picture: some stock photos should basically never be used, especially when there is a plethora of better images you can use instead.
But before you click on to the next awesome article on the Presentation Panda blog, I’d like to know what other terrible stock images you think should be on this list? Have any particularly cringe-worthy ones in mind? You can’t not share with the group!
Lastly, do you have a friend that could benefit from learning about these PowerPoint design tips? If so, email them the link to this post.
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