Picture Your Users First

I’m a content/project manager, and we recently launched a web redesign with an image-heavy front page. Something we discovered was that our low-res JPGs were still retaining too much information and slowing our load times well below what we were comfortable with for the user experience. Our team recommends, as much as possible, using PNG format as a result. We find it renders attractively at an extremely compressed size.

How does this compare to libraries? The first thing to ask is the purpose of your archive. Is it to serve as an online gallery? In that case, I think something like PNG or GIF would be best. Obviously, a digital library is more than just a gallery of images, but if a user has to wait 10 minutes for it to load, they’re not going to wait around to dig into your spectacular metadata.

That said, if there’s an intent for use offline—you want visitors to download something or expect that certain documents will be printed—you may want to offer a higher-resolution version, or at least an option to download a higher-resolution version (Personally I’d go JPG over TIFF, as most free photo viewers can open a JPG but not all can open a TIFF).

I think it’s important to remember that technology evolves. I found Rick Matthews’ treatise on image types incredibly informative (I honestly didn’t know that BMPs were Microsoft-proprietary materal), but I can now include transparency on websafe GIFs when I’m saving them in the newest version of Photoshop.

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5 responses to “Picture Your Users First

  1. Keeping the user in mind – a great piece of advice, Stevie, and one we can’t lose sight of. I, too, am a great fan of the .png format. Those of you who are Mac OS users may have noticed, for example, that screenshots are now .png by default. Here’s a nice visual that illustrates the tradeoffs among .png, .jpg and .gif. Check it out!

    http://www.sitepoint.com/gif-jpg-png-whats-difference/

    • Yes, I did notice that about my screenshots. And I always thought lo-res jpgs offered so much more than PNGs, until we redid the images on our front page. Lesson: always try new things before judging!

    • Thanks for that link. I have to admit I’ve been choosing between “interlaced” and “normal” when saving gifs in Photoshop for years with no idea what I was deciding between. 🙂 Good to have dither explained too. Great link.

  2. I think the three tiered approach can bring a lot of flexibility to a project, giving you a chance to meet the needs of both your own institution and the users. If you are storing a super high quality TIFF somewhere, you can provide a workable jpg to users that can be seen on computers and phones. The thumbnail version can help with those things even more.

    • Yeah, for online galleries, I think the tiered approach, with multiple versions for multiple purposes, is ideal. I love being able to click a thumbnail and see a bigger version.

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