Unless you are a designer or photographer, decisions about photographs and images on your website rarely enter the realm of whether they should be black and white. In the past, when we printed documents, we had to make such choices due to the costs of printing. But with the web, print costs are eliminated and images are all in colour. Most of us do not even consider whether the image would be better in black and white or greyscale unless we want to be “arty”.
However, new research suggests we really ought to think about the use of images in a more strategic way. The study from Ohio State University shows that we react to colour or black and white images in differing ways.
When we see a colour image we are drawn to detail and pick out differences much more easily. But when we are faced with a black and white image we focus more on the “bigger picture”.
This has important implications for anyone with a website. It may well be, for instance, that you have products on sale where distinguishing between the various features on offer is important. In that instance a colour image makes sense. But what if you don’t want people to check out the differences between products? What if you merely want them to get the “big picture”? In such instances, a colour image would work against you; that’s when you would need a black and white or greyscale image.
For service businesses where imagery is often difficult, it may well be the case that black and white pictures are more appropriate. If you have colour images attention becomes focused on checking out the details in the pictures rather than using the images to help guide people into the overall view of what the service is about. For instance, imagine you are a lawyer offering a will writing service. If you have a colour image, people will focus on the details of the image – potentially distracting them from what you want them to consider. But with a black and white image they will focus on the bigger picture of the kind of service you are offering.
Using pictures on your website – particularly when you want to try and sell something – is not just a matter of choosing something appropriate. You also need to consider whether you want the image in colour or whether you want to focus the mind of your visitor on the “bigger picture”.