Top 7 Most Cliché Stock Images Used in Web Design

Top 7 Most Cliché Stock Images Used in Web Design

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Sometimes clients ask us to implement ‘not-so-unique’ elements into our designs and sometimes it seems almost impossible to convince them otherwise, however, hopefully this post can suggest some reasons why not to use the old web design stock imagery clichés.

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I will do this simply by showcasing the most generic and cliché stock images (still) used in web design today. Please also take note that there is nothing wrong with using any of these images if used appropriately.

The Four Part Series

Below is the fourth article.

The Business Handshake

The Call Center Woman / Man

Group Of Business People

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The Rising Finance Graph


Tech Paraphernalia

The World / Globe

How To Avoid Using Cliché Stock Imagery

Avoiding clichés in web design may be difficult especially when the client wants a particular image however the best way to get around it is to ask “why”. Why do you want that that particular image used? Is there another way to portray that without the use of cliché stock images? Always ask yourself what you are trying to communicate and then work from that.

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If you enjoyed this post, you should subscribe so you don’t miss out on the next article in this series. You may also like the much more humorous take on cliché stock photography.

Is there any other cliché imagery you think should be added to this list?

211 thoughts on “Top 7 Most Cliché Stock Images Used in Web Design”

  1. There’s also the “smiling doctor / nurse” image, possibly with smiling patients included.

    I agree with Daiver that unlike the elements presented in the first two “Top 7” articles you really shouldn’t use these stock photos. Ever.

    If the client insists, go with the theme but come up with something different.

    Like the typical business people group having a picnic or the globe made out of pills or psychiatric couch instead of the call center lady or whatever communicates the client’s intended message (once you’ve actually extracted it).

    The photos in this article don’t communicate, they’ll just be dismissed.

  2. When I clicked on this I said to myself “There better be a handshake, if not, someone fails.”

    I was not disappointed.

  3. I admit that you are so stinking right on the nail with this topic. I hate going to websites and seeing these images I usually hit the back button on my browser when I see these cause to me it seems like they don’t put in enough effort at all.

  4. Hehe, when you first announced this series of articles, two things immediately sprang to my mind – smiling callcenter woman and the handshake.
    I actually take some pride in the fact that during my 15 years as a designer, I have yet to use a single one of these examples 🙂

  5. I agree with a couple of others here – the only one missing was the hands cupping dirt with the sprout. But you only have 7 to work with so something has to miss out. I have had the pleasure of working with such an image twice (one an illustrated version) – emotive but soooooo overdone.

  6. I absolutely hate the use of this kind of stock images and it is strictly forbidden at our studio. We are usually able to talk the client out of it, but sometimes it is a great battle.

    Jacob, I do disagree with you when you say that, if done properly, they should be used. We’re way past that point. Using stock images like the ones in this article is just wrong and repetitive. It is so overused that it just looks fake.

    Great blog! Looking forward to reading the other articles of this series. So far they’ve been great!

  7. I see the call center man/woman image used almost everywhere. Especially on the support area of a site. Well, that explains it. Haha…

  8. The good thing is a lot of photo sites now accept stocks from independent/amateur photographers. So there’s a lot more to choose from than before.

  9. Don’t forget about the obligatory “Two-to-Three People In Front of the Computer, Both Smiling, One Pointing at the Screen”

    You know you love it.

  10. This is poetic, my absolute favourite post so far, ‘group of business people’ is beyond words for me, I love them, but if this is wrong what is left? Is cliche truth? You have just trashed the portfolios of 90% of designers (sorry designers I am being flippant). I’m glad you did not venture into showing hands cupping anything, worlds, cotton, trees etc.a whole other can of worms. Great post.

  11. Another one I would add is the ultra-high-angle shot with the model looking straight up. That one floating around of the cute-blonde-girl-with-braids is more overused than Papyrus.

    As website manager for a medical company, I have amassed a collection of wonderful variations on all of the above, on behalf of my bosses’ requests. I have nurses doing the business handshake. A group of business people, standing in front of tech paraphenelia. A bar graph with the globe behind it.

  12. I would add the puzzle piece one. Either just a puzzle piece standing alone or the one that is just about to go into the puzzle completing it.

    Any website that claims to offer ‘solutions’ try to fit that one in someway or another.

  13. I’d like to classify this article (and author) as one of the most cliché things in a blog. 7 most blah blah blah, 10 most blah blah blah.
    You’re a cliché. Just like the clip art. But about half as useful. A pot calling the kettle black.

  14. I’m not a designer, I’m a programmer and I have been forced to use basically all of these when working for a couple of different design agencies. I’m also a photographer, so a little piece of me dies inside each time I have to use one…
    My fiance is a designer. She has never used any of these images, and actually presents the client with photo choices, and makes them choose from among them. Often they are photos we have taken, which means they are unique to that client.

  15. It’s easy to say something is overused and criticize things such as this. But, do YOU have any ideas as to what to use instead?

    • For any of those asking about alternatives or have clients on a budget, my MO is to photoshop it beyond the point of recognition and thus, only using the critical part of the stock image. For example, when I have clients who need images of “people” for the site or project and don’t have their own or whatever the case may be, I extract just the person out of the photo and then add my custom elements.

  16. You’re forgetting about the biggest cliche. Letting people add useless comments to every page, you know, like this.

  17. What most designers and creatives consider to be cliché and Kitsch imagery, some (less open-minded) clients may unfortunately gravitate towards and find appropriate in communicating their corporate message(s). I agree, the images above are blatantly overused to say the least; they represent a type of visual crutch for fresh thinking.

  18. Has anyone asked themselves why these images are a cliche? Why have they been used so much?

    My theory is that it’s because they’re to the point, safe (many people don’t want to give their money to “edgy” companies) and acceptable to a large general audience much as some variation on the button interface is most easily understood by the general public as well. These images are a shorthand for what a lot of companies want to convey about themselves.

    By blending in with everyone else they associate themselves with a particular industry standard. Design is not Fine Art and doesn’t always need to communicate a unique vision. In some clients eyes, that’s even a detrimental approach. Design should meet client objectives not our own artistic needs. If the two coincide great! If not, so be it.

  19. Have any of you ever dealt with a company that makes over a billion dollars? Consistency is required – when you literally have people with IQs of 70 trying to use a site- the best course of action is to use extremelly common elements to represent content (nothing new). So yea, it may be ‘corporatey’ looking, but guess what, they are a billion dollar company. So who is right – the company who hires a designer to make them a site that conveys the designer’s ideals; and looks real good, but confuses 1/4 of the crowd due to the artistic nature of the site? Or a designer who uses tried and true methods and elements, and makes a site that appeals to a greater number of people, looks good, but also looks very much like another website seen over and over again? If money talks, I would have to go with the corporate designer.

    This is also a question that doesn’t take into account the type of industry – if you are designing a site for an art group – then yea, free reign works – but desing a site for a pharmaceutical company, I bet some of these photos are REQUIRED by the brand loyality/marketing director. I put a million on it. And are they wrong? No – they know obvious, well known photos like this will guide the user’s mind in the direction they need.

    That said, I do agree that they are overused, but that is the point. If you don’t want to create a site with these elements, don’t – nobody is forcing anyone. But keep in mind, money talks and it doesn’t lie. These photos are overused for a reason, and I don’t see anybody stopping anytime soon.

    Thought I would stir up the crowd and offer a different perspective.


  20. one more thing to add, the picture of the business group, is almost always interracial, to show a more diverse side to business. A melting pot if you will…

    Carry on.

  21. Well, that’s kinda necessary for any business coz having things & showing things means a lot for clients or users.

    Never let your self down in front of clients… the the policy.

  22. This is true. Use of cliche images does not just diminish the importance/ reliability of a website but it also takes away the quality of an otherwise good design.
    Images used for web design should be as original as possible.

  23. Hahaha freakin hilarious… because it’s so god darn true!

    We designed a corporate website recently and yep, we fell into the trap and have big smiling office people gathered around a conference table. Ugh it pains me but it suited the entire image of the company…

    I did however sneakily slip an attractive businesswoman in with a very low cut top and exquisite assets :p

  24. cup of coffee remains popular 10 years later, you know for kicking back and relaxing while paying your bills.

  25. Come on, admit it, we’ve all used one of these?

    I think you may have missed the old link in a chain stock metaphor shocker.

    Great series!

  26. As a challenge – can someone try to incorporate as many of these elements into 1 giant image? The ultimate cliché. That would be hilarious.

  27. I used to work for a stock library and, even there, we were amazed by what the public wanted. A roller-skating businessman punching the air while closing a deal on his mobile phone is still my favourite.

  28. Haha, Jeff Clark is right, the ol’ three business people in front of the laptop, evenly distributed across ethnic and gender stereotypes. I’ve used that as a profile photo in the past.

  29. Cliche remains cliche because it’s popular. Why is it popular because it’s recognizable and because it’s been done 1000 times before. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it?

  30. I think people miss the point of why these pictures are used so much…. It’s because everyone is DOING THE EXACT SAME THING in their company. Most companies do the following things: make business deals, talk to customers, try and build something quite abstract (and probably quite boring), and try and make it worldwide.

    In essence, I think most people want these images because they don’t actually have anything else to show. Most businesses are B-O-R-I-N-G!

  31. Clients like these images. They actually ask for them. And for cheesy business people they work to sell simple ideas. Personally, I’ve had enough for a few lifetimes…

    But just because we’re designers doesn’t make our opinion more valid. And selling a point differently doesn’t mean it is any better.

    You have to ask yourself why you design: Is it to put new combinations of images and text together, or is it to tell a story to an audience?

  32. hahahahaha, the handshake! So classic! Another one is like the really random diverse group. Black woman in a wheelchair with an asian guy and a white business woman or something.

  33. Stock photography should rarely ever be used. It’s good when the client is on a budget, but there are ways around using photography at all if it isn’t accessible. Stock photography always looks fake and disconnected if it ever contains people, because your audience will always try to associate it with your client when there isn’t a connection at all. “Who are those people? Do they work there?” The answer is “no” and the client comes off as cheap and lazy.

  34. Yes, most of the images like generic and like a common face.

    But I also think that because all these images are presentable to the clients.

    Food for thought.

  35. I was VP of sales at Stockbyte, it always amazed us that the designers always went for the safe options, we could not shoot enough of business images- handshakes, smiles, serious, thinking etc etc. When we looked at comp downloads the designers were stil using the safer images, not sure how many clients ever get proposed radical or different themed images. Maybe designers are just as commerical as the clients they serve

  36. Sometimes the best thing to do is to put your hands together, smile, remember your friends, take a new direction or look for a higher power. Then get back to the computer and take over the world.

  37. This is true, but then the best way to get around this is to suggest an alternate method of getting the same message across in the design.

  38. CM,

    “Have any of you ever dealt with a company that makes over a billion dollars?”

    As a matter of fact, I work for global corp that’s been in business for over 100 years, and makes, well, we won’t get into that. What’s worse than having “people with IQs of 70 trying to use a site” is dealing with employees with IQs in that range. I mean, Christ…an electrical engineer should be able to OPEN A FRIKKIN’ DOOR, instead of whining “I can’t get out”. Maybe because it’s not electric, I don’t know. God, how I pity the typical corporate cubicle-hamster.

  39. I just worked on a corporate website for one of the 50 largest companies in the world, which is worth over a trillion dollars. Two of these EXACT images were used. I could not talk them out of it.

  40. HAHAHA that’s exactly what i’m supposed to do right now…will be only the third time i’m using it. Anyway great blog ! great article as usual!! THX !

  41. Wow, thank you everyone for all of your comments, I wish I had the time to reply to each of you individually!

    Thanks for your input once again, I appreciate it.

  42. I have to plead guilty to the handshake one!

    The reason I used it was for a flier I made for my networking group. I figured “what better way to show a business arrangement?” I also agree with Davier’s comment, “if you use it properly” There’s a time and place for everything as long as it’s in moderation.

  43. OMG how many times have I seen that group of business people, sooo tedious and so indicates an off the shelf website these days.

  44. I’m not a designer. This link was sent to me by another person who is one. I suppose I’m simply one of the pitiful “cubicle hamsters” with “an IQ of 70”, because I personally don’t see much wrong with using these images. Who cares? I’m an average “user” and I don’t give a rodent’s posterior about how often a stock image is used because, I suppose, I’m more into the functionality of a website.

    To me, unless the aesthetics profoundly detract from the site’s utility, then decrying the overuse of stock imagery is little more than artistic snobbery. Reading over these comments is actually quite shocking, really. The level of arrogance and elitism is disgusting.

    So people tend to gravitate toward stock imagery – who cares? It works, it’s what people want, or perhaps a combination of both. Regardless, it doesn’t mean your taste is necessarily superior to anyone else’s.

    Your comments are so telling…

    • I am surprised then, that this was sent to you . Because truly, if you AREN’T a designer, you most likely WOULDN’T relate to it or see as something to comment on. What you may not realize , is that, let’s say you want a website for your new business and specify that you want to use one or more of these images because you might think it will make your new business look “legit” or “recognizable”. Often times, a poor design choice can , unbeknownst to you, really hurt or hinder your business image. It can make your site look amateurish, like an off-the-cuff template, etc. That’s definitely not something anyone would want and is a clear example of why you would hire a designer. Our job is to know these things FOR you. ( If we are doing our job RIGHT , that is..) So please know that, just because you may like an image or design or see a lot of it, does not necessarily mean that , that is a good thing. The very fundamental element I learned in design right off the bat (and virtually all others… I HOPE), is that good design is not about just looking nice. The other half of that (and also more important half) , is that the design FUNCTIONS in the way it should for whatever situation it may be. Let’s say that you really like the look of blue text on a red background on a website (though I hope you don’t…;)) . It may look “nice” but it is unreadable. Therefore, your design has failed because your aim of having visitors read the content on your site is not easily done, and therefore you will have no visitors to your site. Of course, this was a very generalized example, but you get the idea.

      Wow, I really got off on a tangent. Sorry:)

  45. “It works, it’s what people want, or perhaps a combination of both.”

    Yes, it’s what people/stakeholders want, I’ll give you that. But no, it doesn’t work.

    If you do some testing between a page with no Stupid Generic Photographs and ones with them, users (not designers, not marketers, just average people grabbed off the street and shoved into a white van…) tend to be drawn to them so much that they either:

    a)have trouble reading the actual content because their focus keeps shifting between text and the dude waving his Montblac pen at the user in an aggressive manner

    b)smell the fakeness and disconnect of these photos and try as hard as they can in their mind to discredit the company (it’s not just designers that do this)

    Yeah, any image can be guilty of making a user do A. But using images that actually support the content and seem more real (almost no one really believes the dude stuck in a cubicle in a call center is eager and willing to take our call) works a lot better than using the images in this post.

    I can’t speak for the other commentors, but it’s not that we want to be experimental or arty. We just want to use imagery that actually supports the content on the page these images are used. More often than not, you’ll see these images used on pages that have nothing to do with the context of the photos (ie: a dude talking on his cellphone in a page titled “Our Experience”).

  46. Huh what? I see a word “pijemy” which means in my national language “we drinks”. Where You get from this photo? Other words seems like part of the polish words, but I’m not sure about this. Anyway another nice article and I must said I;m following You for some good time. I hope that You will at least stay at the same grade with Your work. Best Regards.

    Bart from Poland

  47. This is a perfect post because it is so true! It’s amazing how often you see the same images and the same types of images all around the web. It just goes to show you that standing out in the right ways can really help you get ahead in business. This is especially true as more and more businesses are making their way on the web.

    Good post!

  48. What kills me is the runaway use of globes in logos! “Ed’s Lumber of Pewamo-Westphalia” does NOT need a globe in its logo. Sorry.

  49. So I waded through this whole pile of comments just dying to see someone’s creative alternatives to any of these. Doesn’t anyone have anything to showcase that’s a better approach? Cuz I could use the inspiration!

  50. I was VP of sales at Stockbyte, it always amazed us that the designers always went for the safe options, we could not shoot enough of business images- handshakes, smiles, serious, thinking etc etc. When we looked at comp downloads the designers were stil using the safer images, not sure how many clients ever get proposed radical or different themed images. Maybe designers are just as commerical as the clients they serve

  51. Don’t forget the angled shot of the address bar in a generic browser with “http://www” zoomed in nice and close. After all, nothing says “internet” like a giant fuzzy pixelated angled “http” to help the hapless get clued in to your savvy message 🙂

  52. uhh…. you encompassed TONS of images with this. It’s neat but:
    1. People standing
    2. People sitting

    Ok… I’ll never use images of people standing or sitting again!! The list is neat tho thanks!

  53. Stock photography should rarely ever be used. It’s good when the client is on a budget, but there are ways around using photography at all if it isn’t accessible. Stock photography always looks fake and disconnected if it ever contains people, because your audience will always try to associate it with your client when there isn’t a connection at all. “Who are those people? Do they work there?” The answer is “no” and the client comes off as cheap and lazy…!

  54. Stock photography should rarely ever be used. It’s good when the client is on a budget, but there are ways around using photography at all if it isn’t accessible. Stock photography always looks fake and disconnected if it ever contains people, because your audience will always try to associate it with your client when there isn’t a connection at all. “Who are those people? Do they work there?” The answer is “no” and the client comes off as cheap and lazy…

  55. Totally ! But sometimes the client wants it. We always try to find other pictures to replace this kinda overrated pictures though. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  56. So true! I’ve used stock photography, but always attempt to use it tastefully. Also, try as hard as you can not to use the first-page results when searching a stock photo site, because those are generally the most-used pictures.

  57. I have seen these images countless times on different websites – especially the hand shake! Great post! Thanks for sharing!.

  58. Yea but when it sells, you make what sells. I’d make these images all day if it paid the bills. Plus you’ll never have a client requesting round after round of changes to them.

  59. I am not a web designer but I am trying to lead my boss away from these images (when I found this blog). Can you offer any alternatives I can present to make my case? Our page looks so generic it kills me.

  60. I think the image I see overused all the time is the close up of a pair of hands holding a pile of dirt, out of which sprouts a hopeful green plant…blah…

  61. Wow, Those pictures are everywhere, despite vector monsters and 3D white blob people attempting to take over.

    Also the “person leaning over a laptop user’s shoulder while pointing”

  62. Always love the stock image of a girl with the headphones on working in a call center. Lovely happy smile, ready to help the whole world. Anyone that I’ve ever known that works in a call center are miserable souls that want another job so bad.

  63. Good post. When you see a website with these type of images you really do know, right off the bat, that typically its a templated site or at least these images make the company look like they didn’t spend much on the site. Hopefully more of our clients will realize this!

  64. @eCommerce Designer: One could also argue that because they are so regularly used, that they are also instantly recognised and subsequently put the visitor in no doubt that the website is what they were looking for.

    Cliche’s become that because they are instantly recognised and associated – not always a bad thing. Cheap sure, but if cheap were bad, Macdonalds would have been out of business years ago.

  65. Lol. I can see a lot of these being like “tackiest images of the 2010’s” someday. You picked a lovely selection here balancing cheesieness and earnestness. Unlike the trends article, I do think that stock photos have had a negative effect on graphic design, and almost wiped up illustrators. 🙁

  66. This is the funniest article I’ve seen in ages. Here are some more: the piggy bank, the sprout, the smiling mail delivery guy handing you a carton, the close-up sunflower (in a sunflower field), the early-yoga-on-the-beach woman in a white outfit.

  67. Seen these images over and over again. Template sites were suing them all the time but in resent years they’ve moved away for using them… Thank God 🙂

  68. I found this post very amusing. 🙂 You , amongst several other responders definitely hit the nail on the head with these. I lost count how many times I have seen all these images. Whoever posted about the smiling doctor and person pointing to the computer really made me laugh. so true. As an added comment, I recently ran into a design first for me, and one I never noticed until now. I had a client who was of African-Amercian decent and thus, wanted a stock image of a black couple hugging for a poetry book he was writing and that I was designing for. I quickly noticed that that the vast selection of photos of white Americans , was in no way an indicator of the same options choices for other races of people. As a white woman with almost all white clients, I had never even noticed this before. It is VERY hard to find stock imagery for African-Americans. And the ones that are, are far less quality conscience. I just thought this was an interesting thing I noticed and wondered if anyone else has noticed that.

  69. The probably is that these images are so associated with business sites that young web designers assume that they are required, and small businesses do not know better either.

    I guess we are destined to see such images for many more years to come!

  70. Avoiding clichés in web design may be difficult especially when the client wants a particular image however the best way to get around it is to ask “why”.

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