Simon Miller Team : Web Development Tags : Web Development

Are we over-relying on images?

Simon Miller Team : Web Development Tags : Web Development

The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” seems to be making a real impact on the web of recent time. With larger desktop screens and the push for more tablet usage, websites in general are appearing to be more and more image heavy.

Combined with the assumption that most users are on broadband or Wi-Fi connections and browsing on powerful devices, designers and developers seem to have put aside some of the old rules we had to abide by in the early days.

Having been at this game since 1999, I remember having to somehow craft a 468 x 60 banner with four panels of animation into 12Kb, so that it would load on a 56K connection without too much lag. You needed to spend a long time with GIF dithering options and colour reduction to reach that target, without the resultant banner looking terrible.

Now when you go to any news site you will get bombarded with a full page, high quality 350Kb photo of a new car you can’t possibly afford fading gracefully in to the screen, blocking the entire view until you click the hard-to-find X in the corner. On older devices, you can almost see the browser crying as it tries to render the page.

As CSS2 became the norm, we had a period of stylish websites that relied on clean fonts, simple layouts involving browser-generated colours, backgrounds and very minimal imagery. After the debacle that was the Flash website, it seemed that websites were becoming fast again. I think the assumption that users are always connected to a fast network and using a next-generation device to browse websites is not accurate. The proof is obvious when you browse an image-heavy website not optimized for mobile, on a two-generations-ago smartphone, on a 3G network.

“There should be a mobile optimised site, then” I hear you say. True, that should be almost a given these days. But what about tablets? They tend to show the same site as a desktop browser. Try loading an image-heavy website on an original iPad when on the train. It can be a slow and frustrating process.

This isn’t to say we should be catering for the lowest common denominator – not so. I just think we should be focusing on what the web was really there for in the first place. Presenting information cleanly for easy navigation and quick consumption. More time should be spent on optimising images for the web again, and not overusing them at every opportunity to fill white space.

“Content is king” is a phrase often said, and arguably images (and video) are just as worthy of being content as text. However, we really need to make sure that non-text content is actually warranted and not just there for filler that ultimately slows down your page load, and possibly loses you visitors.