A Content and User Experience Strategy for local government

Updating my original content strategy first written in 2013. Still a work in progress, still subject to change and additions

Images and other multimedia content


They say a picture paints a thousand words, and a well-chosen picture can bring colour and life to an otherwise dull page. 

If a picture paints a thousand words, are they the thousand words you want to say? Just as a well-chosen picture can bring colour and life to an otherwise dull page, a poorly chosen picture can turn what was an interesting and informative page into one which is at best tedious to read through and at worst a complete car crash; bland or cliché stock photography images of paper cut-out people holding hands, expensive looking pens, piles of money, close-ups of telephone buttons, and the obligatory group shot of people in hi-vis jackets and hard hats on a construction site smiling and pointing at large plans are the worst offenders. Actually, I've seen even worse than that - there was the website for a council which no longer exists which used a large banner image of a homeless person sleeping in a doorway as the hero image for all of its housing pages.

Please do use images to liven up your pages, but please avoid clichés. Think ‘does this image genuinely enhance the content of the page, or does it just get in the way’? Only use sharp, well colour saturated high quality photographs taken with a decent camera, never use blurry washed out images taken with a cheapo phone camera. 

Needless to say, don't rip off copyright images from a search, only use images you've had created yourself or which are available online under a Creative Commons or other free use licence. Expect to be challenged to provide the proof you have the rights to use an image if we suspect otherwise; the central website publishing team will not be held responsible for publishing images supplied by a service area which we do not have the rights to publish - the submitting service area will be deemed liable for any violations in this regard.

Technical considerations

All editing of images should be done with a proper, professional standard image editor such as Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo. The free online Photopea may be used at a push.

Images should be of consistent dimensions which fits the wrapper in a sensible way - either full width, or a third, half, or two-thirds for images which text will flow around. On this site, the default image size is 1920x1024.

Image filesizes should be as small as possible whilst maintaining a reasonably good image quality on a high end display - 50kb to 150kb will usually be sufficient for most photographic images. It is rare that an image larger than 500 in size will be appropriate.

General photo-style images should be saved as .jpg files, at a medium quality setting. Images where there are significant blocks of solid colour will usually appear better as .png files, and logos will be either .png files, or ideally .svg files.

If you need to provide high resolution images eg for download for a media library, please discuss this with us so we can agree on the best option.

Speaking of logos, if it is a contractual obligation to place partner or sponsor logos on a content page, they should be done at the bottom of the page, they should all appear to be of equal height, and they should be equally spaced across the row. Ensure they have a transparent background, ie that any background colour the asset file was supplied as is removed.

All images should have appropriate alt text - we have guidelines for creating appropriate alt text.

Emerging multimedia formats

We should actively embrace considering the use of other multimedia content such as video, virtual reality, and interactive 3D modelling – this kind of content can be more engaging, and it can also help to promote our commercial spaces. Most councils successfully webcast their meetings online, imagine how a short segment of a council meeting filmed in VR from the vantage point of a councillor might further promote the democratic process for users with VR headsets, putting them in the centre of the debate rather than watching from the side? Most councils have grand spaces which they hire out commercially and have photos of the space on the website, imagine how a couple looking to hire one of them for their forthcoming wedding will be so much more tempted to pay the fee if they can see a VR video walkthrough of the building before they book an appointment to view in person? And remember, you don't need a VR headset to view VR content, it also works on an ordinary phone, to a degree. Most councils have interesting monuments and sculptures in their public spaces and pictures of them on the website, imagine bringing those objects to life with a 3D scan of them on the website for users to pick up, look at the close detail, and look at from all angles?

AI-generated images

If you think a page can be improved with an image but don't have access to any suitable images, it is permitted to use AI-generated images. Try to avoid the same cliches which plague stock photography, and be sure to count all the arms and fingers in the image to ensure there is the expected number of them. (All the images on this site are AI-generated as part of emphasising its experimental nature; I accept some of those images are more successful than others!)