We’re working on another project for a magazine, and as we’re laying out content pages we’re having to address the (admittedly minor) issue of how to display photo and illustration credits.
On most news or magazine sites, like Newsweek or the New York Times, when an article has a photo or illustration, they have to identify the owner of the image â€” not always the creator of the image, but often just the rights-holder.
The way these credits are usually presented within a web site bugs the heck out of me. As a consumer, I don’t care at all who owns the image I’m looking at. I just want to take it in, and the captions are almost always a distraction to me.
In fact, I have a hard time imagining that they add anything significant to most readers’ experiences â€” except to the one-in-a-million visitor who is interested enough to want to track down the owner of an image for their own purposes.
I understand that rights-holders require some sort of recognition, and I stipulate that providing the information â€” even if only for the sake of that one-in-a-million user â€” has some small value. That having been said, I propose that user experience should trump the irrelevant-to-most indication of who owns a particular image, at least in its current format.
The Back Story
The usage rights of images that are published, whether online or in real-world publications, is rarely straightforward. Even though a publication has commissioned a photo or an illustration, it doesn’t mean that they own that image outright, and it doesn’t even mean that they can publish the image in whatever medium they choose â€” or even for as long as they choose.
For example, a magazine may commission a freelance photographer to take photos of an event. The publication needs to negotiate ahead of time with the photographer what rights they will have to the photos, whether they are just for publication in the magazine, or if their usage rights extend to digital (i.e., the magazine’s web site). Of course this usually happens pretty swiftly â€” there are standard contracts for this kind of thing. The magazine could buy the photos outright, but this is usually much more expensive, and not worth it to the publication unless it’s a major event or topic that will have long-term interest.
The practical outcome is that the images you see are rarely owned by the people publishing them, which is why most of the time there will be some credit text near the image, letting you know who actually owns it. (Or, probably more accurately when you really get down to it, letting you know that the entity publishing the image doesn’t own it.)
A Modest Proposal
We have to have the credits, we’re agreed, but let’s hide them until the user interacts with the image in some way, like mousing over the image in preparation for clicking it. Then we can present the image credits to users who are much more likely to be interested in them.
And, hey, as long as we know this about them, there’s no need to restrain ourselves regarding how much information we choose to show, and how it appears. (Nothing except good taste, of course.) We can take up even more space with our appearing/disappearing element and offer much more information than we normally would.
(The examples to the left are my idea of what would happen when a user places their cursor over an in-content image; the second being a thought toward making the credits even more useful for those who are interested in them. Does direct access to the source image hurt any rights owner’s bottom line?)
There is a Value Add to be Had
To my mind this benefits every single party involved:
- the General Readers benefit from a less-cluttered reading experience;
- the Interested Readers (who want the credits) gain exactly the same benefit, but still have access to the information they may want;
- the Content Publisher benefits from increased reader satisfaction brought on by a less-cluttered design;
- the Rights Owner benefits by only having their name revealed to people who can be said to be at least minimally interested in the image presented, plus (and this is a stretch, but it matters to people), by not having their name visible everywhere, they drop the risk of being constantly and directly related with an annoying design feature.