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Decades before the invention of web design, Margaret Mead unknowingly described stock images: it may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.

We all have a love/hate relationship with stock images. We need them. We hate them. We can’t live without them. We use them incorrectly.

It is sometime necessary to temporarily accept the lesser evil when designing a website. But too often, we take that, “it’ll have to do” image and somehow manage to morph it into, “this looks great” in our minds.

Think About the Real Audience

As marketing professionals, we tend to give our clients exactly what they want—exactly what they think they want.

We get swept up into their branding goals and help them create the image they think they should portray.

Nowhere is this mistake more obvious than the health and fitness industry.

So many times, we try to use images to encourage and inspire. If you use this weight loss product, you’ll look exactly like this!

Naturally, we must be careful about the image we use. They send a powerful message and we definitely don’t want to send the wrong one. But to me, there is just something honest and relatable in images like these:

real weight loss real weight loss2 real weight loss3

It’s time to start thinking about the real message we are sending with the images we use. Turn the tables; think like the site’s visitors.

Some Humorous Examples

If you agreed with me, if you thought the above images were appropriate for a health and fitness design, you might not actually be aware of the problem I’m referring to.

Let me show you what is happening. I’ll attempt to put a humorous spin on the subject in case you’re someone who’s used these images (don’t worry, I’ve done it too).

First of all, let me tell you how I found these images. I did a search in iStock and sorted the results by most popular (or images that have been downloaded the most). I didn’t look in obscure places on websites no one visits. These images have been downloaded and used thousands of times.

But are they the best choice? Let’s caption these images and look at what they might tell the person who views them without the lens of web design.

I’ll start by confessing one of my own sins. This image was maybe on the website for Amino Pharmaceuticals, a Denver weight loss clinic. Don’t judge.


“I enjoy standing in front of my perfectly organized refrigerator that contains nothing but the healthiest foods. After measuring myself, I decided I could splurge on this zero calorie salad after a vigorous (but not hair or makeup altering) session at the gym.”

Ok. Now, let’s look at one of my biggest pet peeves. This image is the most popular image when searching the term “weight loss.” It has been downloaded millions of times. Why?!


“This is all you need to lose weight. Hot pink dumbbells that weigh a whopping three pounds each, a freshly washed apple, and a measuring tape to obsessively track your progress. Don’t worry; no real effort is involved at all.”

Alright. I’ll get off my soapbox now and just let you enjoy the rest of the madness.


“As a dietician, I think it is very important to have a large supply of vegetables on hand at all times. If you feel a bit peckish, I can whip you up a nice snack.


“Let’s hurry up and get this job done. These colorful fruits and vegetables are stressing me out. How do people live in a kitchen with disorder, color and life?!”


“Hey, aren’t they waiting for you to do that heart transplant?” “Yeah…but did you watch the game last night?! What an amazing upset!”


“Our team of health professionals is so ethnically diverse, it’s almost too good to be true.”


“Yes, I know it’s small now, but for the next four hours you’ll be golden.”


“I am sooooo serious about this exercise routine. I might even get my shoes dirty.”


“Hey! Do you want to join me at the gym? It’s like so much fun! Seriously, like, you should give it a try!”


“This might look like the tools of the trade for a drug addict, but it isn’t. This is all you need to lose weight. Simple and healthy, right?”


“Don’t worry about going to the gym to lose weight. This measuring tape is so strong it will literally crush the fat on your body.”


“Alright. It looks like my anorexic lifestyle is paying off. I can eat this heap of tasteless veggies and not risk losing this perfectly toned tummy.”

What Are The Images Saying?

Do you agree with my health and fitness stock image assessment? Or am I way off base? I’d love to hear what you think of these images—and any others that are infecting good design.