Andi Best Freelance Designer

The Current State of Office Stock Imagery

  • Published 30-07-2017
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The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Earlier this month I published a post outlining the options available to marketers for sourcing imagery to use in creative projects. The post concluded that though Stock Image libraries are a popular option, it's best to avoid them if damage limitation to your brand's originality is a concern (and it should be). I'd like to dwell on Stock Imagery for just a little longer as when researching that post an amusing observation came to light in the field of Office Stock.
An ideology exists that customers/clients are more likely to spend with you if you drop your guard, break the 4th wall and let them peek inside your business. Not your actual business of course; that's a Post-it note ladened labyrinth of mascots, strewn cabling and forgotten Christmas decorations, populated by people who are nowhere near airbrushed enough for public consumption. No one would ever find your actual office appealing. Instead, the concept is to expose users to an ideal representation of your business. A strategically placed woman wearing a telephone headset on your website's contact page for example. A group of diversified employees gathered in a ghostly ethereal boardroom posed as though at The Last Supper and gesticulating at spreadsheets. A sharp-focused tradesman on a slant in immaculate overalls giving it the thumbs up and big smiles. All of these images are key in peeling back layers of your business' faceless facade and convincing your customers you are approachable, human, and very much grounded in the late 90s. They are the makeup of Office Stock and they are utterly rubbish.
I won't go on bashing the ridiculousness of Office Stock from that era - its laughableness is well documented elsewhere. Instead I want to focus on the evolution of the genre and how there still seems to be an absurdly high demand for Office Stock (the examples you're about to see have all been sourced from genuine articles published by others into my Twitter feed). The current iteration has moved towards candid realism in what I suspect was influenced by the popularity of Instagram. By staging the scene and tarting it up a bit with post-production treatment, your desk, your glass fronted reception, your disciplinary hearing with HR all take on a hyper-real mantle of professionalism, dynamism and even desirability. The fun part for me is looking through the soft focuses and desaturated filters of this new crop of Office Stock and finding where the fabricated scenes begin to unravel.
The Technical Guy
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Your digital marketing and web department has an incredible SEO team that you want to proudly showcase on your website, however, they're all ugly individuals and their office is a dank hovel in the basement. Not to worry, here's the perfect Office Stock Image for you to use instead. Just look at this guy. He is the epitome of modern male employee. His tight-fitting sweater balks under the strain of his impressive build attempting to entrap his magnificent facial hair in a coffee cup, while his other hand rests tentatively on his keyboard ready to thump out some quality SEO. It doesn't even matter that he has no idea what SEO is, he is right out of the hipster playbook and therefore doesn't have to care. To him, SEO is just a medley of disparate doodles akin to the Saved By The Bell title sequence, magnified on an iMac screen, large enough to convince his colleagues and manager that he is deeply entranced in complex matters, contrary to the array of blank Post-it notes affixed to the screen and totally empty notebook nearby that reveal absolutely nothing is going on in this guy's head.
The Desk
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Imagine for a moment you work at a desk. You with me? OK. Now try to imagine that your job, though important, holds no aesthetic worth whatsoever. What do you do for topical imagery in your marketing? The answer to that, clearly, is find a photograph of your desk. Again, not your actual desk - your desk is a swamp - but a desk much like yours from a Stock Image library. Unlike yours though it'll be immaculately laid out to the point of impracticality, littered with items that would normally be tucked away in drawers owing to their infrequent requirement (such as hole-punches, pocket notebooks, digital SLR cameras, a smattering of paperclips etc.*) and always, always, viewed as if levitating directly above the spread.
Digitally composed or otherwise these desk images are available by the boatload. A real penchant for them came to be from the reinvigorated blogging movement in 2013 when Google's penguin and panda algorithms struck down websites for their lack of freshness. Nothing quite says "business" like a desk so if all other avenues for Stock Imagery aren't available to you, slap an absurdly pristine desk shot in your masthead and call it a day.
*Bonus points for selecting an image that contains a pair of reading glasses and their case, a succulent in a concrete pot, three or more digital devices, or an unspoilt cup of coffee.
The Data
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Here's an amalgamation of the previous two images; a desk, and a human. Owing to the placement of the human's hands we find ourselves in their POV, looking at their desk strewn with business ephemera. We also find from the placement of their hands that they're having difficulty pressing the Home button on what is very obviously a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Weird. As such we are treated to the spectacle of the device's desktop screen that appears to be playing no role in the narrative other than "often there are devices on desks".
In the human's other hand the real questions begin to surface - why would anyone print A4 sheets of infographic style charts entirely devoid of context, and in some cases, data? The maps and pie charts are wholly inconclusive, the roundel of arrows is labelled only 55% despite being a complete circle, and by the end of the page the document is just people shapes. What could any of this mean to anyone? Perhaps this person's job is to highlight in pink all the instances of "things that might pass for genuine office rhetoric at a glance". If the purpose of your business evades you to the extent that an image as hollow as this one adequately describes it in your opinion, you might want to have a reread of your induction manual.
The Lone Wolf
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Here's the perfect image for you to use if the impression you wish to portray of your company is one of longing and despair. Cardigan-clad, beardy, everyday office bloke here has taken off his designer headphones to reflect on the horror of the situation he finds himself in - he has accidentally come to work on a Saturday. The usual bustle of his colleagues regaling last night's television and unpacking their organic lunches is absent, the low-hanging dish lights that can serve no practical lighting application are off, and the mugs from Friday evening are still out on the desks as even the cleaner hasn't arrived today.
We've all done it, I'm sure - misinterpreted the round-robin email about which weekend the brainstorming session or the corporate team-building fun day was supposed to be and then stood at the window, staring fruitlessly at the adjacent buildings looking for signs of life, while texting line manager Janet to find out what the protocol for locking up is. Janet won't answer of course because she's in Cornwall for the weekend or something - you weren't really listening to her.
The Diversity
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
We see here the lesser trodden path of Office Stock Imagery. Literally, the path just outside the building. The photographer, presumably without the model's consent, is pressed against the glass taking this candid shot of her mashing her hand into her laptop keyboard as per the instructions in the notebook she's reading from. I'm not really sure what she's hoping to achieve by doing that.
Creepier than the voyeuristic composition of the shot is the Instagram treatment of it thereafter; a golden wash applied as if to sweeten the scene of otherwise unmitigated intrusion. Certainly, if you wanted to empower women by portraying your workplace as a diverse and progressive institution this is probably not the best way to go about it.
The Meeting
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Look! It's SEO beardy chops again and this time he's suited and booted at an 8.15 meeting (see mobile phone lock screen display) with an equally suited and booted business person. They are having a meeting so early in the day the office isn't actually open yet, and they are therefore sat at trestle tables in the local park, sans coffee cups and other eatery discourse suggesting, yes, this is just a park bench. Undeterred by the glare that inevitably ensues when computing outdoors our hero endeavours to convey his bar-chart enforced insights to his somewhat unimpressed partner. Her attention is perhaps on her tablet which she placed several inches away from a typical resting position, precariously on the edge of the table. Though not integral to the exchange, it was important to bring the tablet to justify the context - what kind of business meeting on a park bench could possibly take place without a pile of superfluous technology?
The Brainstorm
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Meanwhile, also at 8.15 (see mobile phone lock screen display), the office actually is open and a secret brainstorming meeting is taking place without SEO guy's knowledge. He's not been invited to attend because, as his earlier Post-it notes show, he has nothing to contribute.
Line manager Janet has open on her laptop what appears to be a design/editing program and is in the early stages of mapping out a layout of some kind. Around her sit a bevy of astute colleagues who've each brought a business orientated artefact to clutter the table with: a closed notebook, an open Filofax (?), a clipboard, a mug of business fluid - the scene is definitely set. In the top right of the picture Geoff is seen snapping an imaginary pencil in half as a silent protest to Janet's inane editing efforts. He doesn't like the pink she's used as the backdrop for the architectural blue(there's a clue)prints and really hates that she's titled the document "Ideas" without further elaboration.
The Future
The Current State of Office Stock Imagery
Honestly though, forget all the previous images because this is the only one you'll need. Your company is so forward thinking, so ahead of your competitors, that all other Office Stock imagery fails spectacularly to convey the utopian paradise that is your working environment. Your staff wear crisp, white, standard-issue attire which conforms to the surrounding decor of white walls, white desks, and white cabinets of abundant, unmarked white binders. It's also company policy to place an ironic book of colour swatches beside your keyboard. And unlike anyone else you are pioneering technology akin to sci-fi blockbuster special effects. At the mere touch of multiple keys (including the space bar) your staff can effortlessly desaturate their computer screens as if poorly Photoshopped and conjure numerous translucent effigies of 90's Stock Image headshots to physically float around their workstations at angles that defy the laws of perspective. It's an Office Stock pastiche celebrating itself! Wow.
"Are you guys from the future or what?" will be the resounding cry from everyone who views this mind blowing image on your website. Simply wow.
The point to all this - which I hope I haven't made too subtle - is that though the direct-to-camera, cheesy, business subjects of the past two decades have now turned their attention to their 'work' in their 'natural' surroundings, the overall cross-section of imagery on offer from Office Stock is still just as dry and senseless. The one-size-fits-all approach to creating reusable photography results in an absence of context and authenticity, and actually conveys less about your company than you may realise. Do you need to specify that you work in an office at all? Isn't that obvious?
Offices aren't glamorous places and a heap of Apple products and a beard aren't going to change that. If your office is a glamorous place, with bean bags suspended from the ceiling and free chai lattes pouring out of the walls then get it photographed! That's the kind of transparency in an image kit a client would like to see and will respond positively to. But if like the majority of the professional world your workspace is a hole, you should try to think more creatively about the images you use. Does the About Us page on your website need a sweater-clad gent frowning at a make-believe display on his iMac, or would an artworked shot of your product range intertwined with on-brand illustration hold more impact? Get in touch with me today to talk to you about more interesting ways to showcase your business in your marketing.
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