A face to a URL

17th Sep 2004

What's just as important as the font face used on a website?

If you're like me, when you hear a new band on the radio you want to know what they look like. Of course you could probably hazard a reasonable guess but that's not very useful or satisfying. The same applies when I've been visiting someone's website on a regular basis and I haven't seen a photo of the author; I want to know what they look like. Same for you? So, in place of a missing photograph I usually cobble together all the details I've collected about this author and build up a picture in my head instead.

A photograph (or lack of) provokes thoughts and feelings, which affects how you read or view someone's site.

Blair Millen on a good dayAfter frequent visits to sites like Whitespace, Anne van Kesteren, Asterisk* and Hicks Design among others I saw no photos of the authors. I wanted to know what they looked like! Call it inquisitive, call it perverted!

Take Hicks Design for example: I had formed an image of Jon Hicks: a family man, crafting away in his home studio, occasionally picking his nose, loveable ankle-biters distracting him while he listens to the latest Interpol album LOUD. Only recently did I see a picture of Jon Hicks; and how strangely affecting it was to have my skewed vision of him given a face!

A similar case with Paul Scrivens of whitespace fame: when I first saw a photograph of him I was rather surprised. I'd built up this notion that he was a worldly-wise, middle-aged man (and strangely enough) sporting a white beard (whitespace-whitebeard?). Turned out to be rather different. In fact, if I remember correctly, for one reason or another, there was a fair bit of hoo-ha when Scrivs posted photos of himself. Perhaps everyone else was as intrigued as I was! Interesting to note, these photos (and the insightful comments made at the time) have been taken down from the whitespace site... perhaps they are hidden elsewhere within the 9rules network but I couldn't find them.

Oh... Anne van Kesteren is male... a photograph would probably sort out any confusion there.

In May this year Andrei Herasimchuk put together a great article about combining design and usability, and the article included photographs of the contributors. These photos are as important as the textual content. Design Eye for the Usability Guy featured photoshopped mugshots of Didier Hilhorst, D Keith Robinson (Asterisk*), Cameron Moll and Greg Storey. (All handsome guys, breaking down the stereotypical image of the computer nerd, but that's another topic!). Importantly, having the photos gives the content credence; those words came from a real person, not some shady character that nobody's ever clapped eyes on.

Posting photos can be good and bad, but mostly good.

Here's a different perspective: Biroco recommended a well-written site he'd stumbled across: La Vache Qui Lit. Accompanying his post was a photograph of the author Leslie Winer. This photograph I found alluring and exciting, it had that < cite xml:lang="fr">je ne sais quoi, which was all the impetus I needed to make me read through her entire site. Yes, maybe I'm just a perv.

Another angle completely: the Radio Scotland broadcaster Ali Abbasi, (who very sadly died recently) highlights an interesting case. It was after many years of listening to his traffic announcements (peppered with his awful jokes) that I first saw a photograph of the man. Here's the point: although he had a distinctive accent (a combination of Pakistani and Scottish) it didn't really occur to me that he was part Pakistani until I saw a photograph of him. I presumed he was Scottish. So beforehand, when it didn't occur to me what he looked like, I didn't think twice about his accent; after that the Pakistani twang in his accent stood out like a solitary high-rise block of flats in a city of bungalows.

What does all this mean? No definite one thing or another. For me, knowing what a person looks like before conversing or interacting with them (like reading a website or exchanging email etc.) makes a difference to my mindset. Knowing that the person has some physical attribute that I can relate to helps to bring something more solid, more meritorious to their opinions and theories; it helps me visualise their words coming from their mouth. This author is speaking to me. And when it comes to blogging a photograph makes a big difference; without it, something is missing, so put a face to your URL.

D Keith Robinson talked about the importance of having a good "about" page (and in particular if you have a personal/professional site) including a photograph. Good advice, which he doesn't yet follow himself. View the Asterisk* about page.

Dave Shea set down so me rules for doing your own press photography, which is handy.

What about you? Does a photo make a difference? Truthfully?

As a complement to Cameron Moll's Screen Grab Confab I invite you to divulge who you are and provide a photograph to let everyone know what you look like.

Follow these simple rules:

  • use an image tag with alt and title attributes
  • make your images 150px by 150px
  • include class="photo2" within the img tag
  • remember to close your img tags