We’ve all had a good laugh and eye roll at the women laughing alone with salad stock images—the sheer ridiculousness of this swathe of stock images that for some reason mainly depicts (primarily white) women as over enthusiastic salad eaters. Unfortunately this is a symptom of a much bigger problem which negatively affects a lot of people: the lack of authentic representation in the world of stock images.
Stock images are ubiquitous: they’re coming at us from all sides—book covers, instagram ads, blog posts, website design, billboards. Stock images in design have power: the experience of seeing someone like you reflected back in an image is empowering, it fosters inclusion and increases awareness.
When the existence of different identities, skin tones, body shapes and abilities is not taken into account, that is an act of the erasure of that community. This is why representation matters.
Seeing Barack Obama elected as the first African American president. Seeing Adam Rippon compete and win at the Olympic games as one of the first openly gay men to do so. Seeing Ada Hegerberg be the first woman to be awarded the Ballon d’Or as the world’s best footballer—a prize that has only been awarded to a man each year since 1956. Seeing Beyoncé on the cover of Vogue magazine.
Setting up a digital space for authentic and diverse stock imagery
One afternoon four years ago, Neosha Gardner was searching for stock images to feature in a lifestyle blog post—she describes herself as a Creative Business Doula, who runs an online visuals studio for creative entrepreneurs. At the time, Gardner was looking for an image of someone who looked like her, but she could not find any authentic stock images featuring Black women.
After polling her social media followers, Gardner realised there was a big problem with stock imagery and the lack of representation. Deciding to put her own skills to use, the creative entrepreneur decided to do something about it and set up her own free stock image library focused on representing African American women, CreateHERstock.
CreateHERstock was established in 2014 as a resource offering free and premium stock “lifestylesque” images of black women, aimed at bloggers, creatives and online influencers who want to reflect the world around us in their content. The photos are stylish, beautifully shot, covering everything from family and work, to grocery shopping and socialising. Images are for personal non-commercial use only and can be used for editorial or non-commercial advertisement purposes.
The platform is currently serving over 10,000 users, ranging from marketing agencies and school districts to newbie bloggers and graphic designers. Gardner shoots many of the photos herself, along with photographer I’sha Gaines, who regularly contributes to the library.
CreateHERstock offers both free and premium packages, providing access to over two hundred free stock images, or a larger library of over two thousand images for a fee.
Gardner is focused on further diversifying the stock images she produces and plans to improve age representation in the CreateHERstock library.
“In the future, we’re looking to recruit more models—male and female—in the more mature age ranges of 50+ for quite a few photoshoots. We have a few models that are 40+ who look younger, so some people think we cater to only millennials. We’re also wanting to include more images as it relates to education, disabilities, and more,” Gardner told me.
The problem with a lack of diversity in stock images goes beyond skin colour as well. Considering that one in five people in the world live with a disability, the lack of representation in the media is stark: only 2% of images in the media reflect the lives of disabled people.
Getty images discovered this data and wanted to make a change, so together with the NDLA (National Disability Leadership Alliance) and global media and technology company Oath, Getty has launched a new subcategory on Getty Images: the Disability Collection.
The collection aims to show that people with disabilities live full lives, they are not imprisoned by the disability they have, they work, spend time with friends, laugh, play and enjoy life.
Getty images plans to continuously add to the Disability Collection, they told me. You can also apply to be part of a shoot, or submit your own photos to be added. Hopefully it sends a strong message when companies like Getty and Oath try to take responsibility for improving typically underrepresented communities.
Getty can see the data on what people are searching for, and searches for inclusive images have increased greatly: “Global search data from 2016 to 2017 indicates that searches for ‘wheelchair access’ increased 371% year over year on GettyImages.com. Additionally, ‘disabled worker’ was up 254%, ‘autism awareness’ increased 196%, and ‘deafness’ was up 144%,” they explain.
Adding a collection like this to their platform can make it much easier for people to find stock images that better represent the wide range of people that live in the world. And the point should also be made that providing collections of stock photos like this will hopefully see an increase in representation of disabled people in the media overall—to recognise their existence, and not only because of a disability.
On Getty, you can also find more collections, such as the No Apologies collection, which includes images of women with different body sizes and skin tones than are usually shown in the media.
Adobe is another huge company which stepped up earlier this year to offer more inclusive stock imagery through their library of images. The Fluid Self is Adobe’s collection of images which includes a more diverse range of people and fluid identities.
Further resources for representative stock images can be found on Representation Matters; the #WOCintech photostream on Flickr—which features stock images available under a Creative Commons Attribution License; and Push Living—where you can find disability inclusive stock photos.
Regularly sourcing stock images? Here’s what you can do.
If you’re responsible for a design which depicts people, whether for a book cover, website, blog post or instagram ad, you have a responsibility to take into account that there are a lot more people in the world than straight, white, able-bodied folks.
Addressing diversity and inclusiveness in your stock images will only serve to widen your audience when you include more skin tones, body shapes, abilities or gender. You have an opportunity to reach an even wider audience by including people from typically underrepresented communities in your imagery. And this applies to you if you’re a designer as well, because you have an opportunity to give your client a wide range of options.
In a survey of 1,000 US consumers last year, Sprout Social found that most consumers want brands to speak up about social issues, “People want brands to use what they don’t necessarily have—power and money—to drive change at scale.”
Progressive changes are already happening, so it’s important to keep your branding up to date with social awareness and the multicultural landscape of the world. Last year Nike chose Colin Kaepernick for their “Just Do It” campaign: Kaepernick is an NFL player who is also known for his activism raising awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement by kneeling instead of standing when the national anthem is played on the football field.
Kaepernick made a statement by kneeling, and drew criticism from fans and the NFL alike. Nike choosing Kaepernick for their campaign sent a strong message of support for his beliefs around the world. And despite the criticisms, Nike reported better than expected earnings for that period, and Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL owners, which will be brought to court.
We also have some recent pop culture examples—consider the 2018 romantic comedy film Crazy Rich Asians. The film had the first all-Asian cast in 25 years and went on to become the highest grossing romantic comedy in the last 10 years at the box office.
Gillette, the razor brand known for their slogan “The best a man can get”, released a short film recently, depicting bullying, sexism and gender inequality. The film went viral and is drawing comments from all sides. “This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity,” Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, tweeted. “And it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions.”
The film could have been a huge risk for Gillette, they essentially took aim at half of their customer base, calling out men for stereotypical behaviours. On the other hand, the ad has over 27 million views and has been critically discussed in major publications. Adweek shared data that showed Gillette has engaged a new audience for them—women—in a new way.
Diverse stock images—a huge opportunity
CreateHERStock founder Gardner told me that her experience as a designer gave her essential insight into the design process and insight into the design needs that clients have, something that designers should make the most of when it comes to representation.
“Designers should somewhat become an advocate in a sense when encouraging their clients to use imagery that speaks to a broad audience,” Gardner told me. “You may never know who’s purchasing your products.” Her clients are not just other Black women searching for authentic stock photos, but people from a variety of different cultures who value the catalogue as a resource.
So, whether you’re a designer or an entrepreneur, make sure to think about diversity when selecting stock images and make the most of this huge opportunity.