Style Imagery

Imagery

Imagery is more than decoration. It’s a powerful tool to help you communicate and differentiate your product.

Bold, graphic, and intentional imagery helps to engage the user.

Whether the mood is subdued and muted or bright and colorful, the following principles and best practices can help you successfully incorporate imagery and bring your apps to life, no matter what the visual brand.

Principles

Relevant
Informative
Delightful

Integrating with UI

Use appropriate resolution
Use scrims to protect text

Use cases

Avatars and thumbnails
Hero images
Galleries

Principles Expand and collapse content An arrow that points down when collapsed and points up when expanded.

When using illustration and photography to enhance the user experience, choose images that express personal relevance, information, and delight.

Personal relevance

Imagery can reflect the context and the world the user inhabits.

Information

Images can convey specific information that makes comprehension easy and immediate.

Delight

Portraying context with aesthetic beauty will make your product unique and add to user delight.

Appreciate context

Ensure images are dynamic and context-relevant. Use predictive visuals to substantially improve the user experience.

Use imagery that is context-relevant.

Be immersive

When necessary, it’s acceptable to obscure or allude to integrated heros and thumbnails through color and content overlays.

Background imagery can be obscured when engaging with foreground content.

Best practices Expand and collapse content An arrow that points down when collapsed and points up when expanded.

Use multiple mediums

Both illustration and photography can live within the same product. Photography automatically implies a degree of specificity and should be used to showcase specific entities and stories. Illustration is effective for representing concepts and metaphors where specific photography might be alienating.

Do.

For specific entities, look first to photographic representation.

Do.

When total specificity is not available or applicable, illustration conveys approximation of content to aid comprehension.

Stay away from stock

Use imagery to express a distinctive voice and exemplify creative excellence.  

For specific entities or branded content, use specific imagery. For more abstract content, be interpretive. Photographic stock and clipart is neither specific nor interpretive.

Do.

Strive for images that represent genuine stories.

Don't.

Stock images can feel inauthentic.

Do.

For specific representations, use specific imagery.

Don't.

Don't default to literal stock photography.

Have a point of focus

Have an iconic point of focus in your imagery. Focus ranges from a single entity to an overarching composition. Ensure that a clear concept is conveyed to the user in a memorable way.

Do.

Use color and composition to give images a clear focus.

Don't.

Avoid making the user hunt for the meaning in the image.

Do.

The most powerful iconic images consist of a few meaningful elements, with minimal distractions.

Don't.

When the point of focus is obscured, the iconic quality of the image is lost.

Do.

A clear focus communicates the concept at a glance.

Don't.

A lack of focus makes the image meaningless.

Build narratives

Create an immersive story and a sense of context to humanize your app. Define the mood through visual storytelling. Is the mood aspirational? Somber? Celebratory?

Do.

An image that tells a story is infinitely more interesting and informative.

Don't.

An image that lacks a story loses an opportunity to convey mood, brand, and context.

Do.

Properly contextualized concepts convey your message and brand more effectively.

Don't.

A representation of an entity that is dissociated from context is uninteresting.

UI integration Expand and collapse content An arrow that points down when collapsed and points up when expanded.

Resolution

Make sure your images are appropriately sized for displays and across platforms. Material design emphasizes large images. Ideally, the assets should not appear pixelated. Test appropriate resolution sizes for specific ratios and devices.

Do.

Appropriately sized imagery

Don't.

Degraded imagery

Introduce scale

Introduce alternative scales to create levels of visual importance.

Within a gallery context, introduce thumbnails of various sizes to convey content hierarchy.

Encourage multiple containers living in the same ecosystem.

Text protection

To make typography legible on top of imagery, apply text protection in the form of scrims. Scrims are lightweight, translucent material layers.

1. Dark end of gradient: Opacity values depend on context
2. Center point of gradient: 3/10ths closer the the darker end
3. End point of gradient: Opacity of 0

To avoid banding (the formation of distinct stripe shapes), the gradient should be long, 3x standard app bar height, with the centerpoint about 3/10 towards the darker side of the gradient. This gives the gradient a natural falloff and avoids a sharp edge.

The gradient’s opacity should be chosen based on its environment. Some imagery can use darker gradients, such as the image displayed here with a 60% gradient.

Gradients could be as low as 10-20% in some contexts.

In this image, the gradient is 60% black.

This is the gradient which has been applied to the image at the left.

Do.

Dark scrims should ideally be between 20%-40% opacity depending on the content. Light scrims should ideally range from 40%-60% opacity depending on the content.

Don't.

Don't obscure imagery when you use a scrim.

Do.

For larger real estate, target specific areas for text protection instead of blanketing the entire image.

Don't.

Don’t ‘over-scrim’ large images.

Do.

Color overlays are different than text-protection scrims and can be used as a design element. When creating complementary color overlays, use the Palette API to define your color scheme based on content.

Do.

You can use your brand’s color palette decoratively to enhance imagery.

Avatars and thumbnails

Avatars and thumbnails represent entities or content, either literally through photography or conceptually through illustration. Generally, they are tap targets that lead to a primary view of the entity or content.

Avatars can be used to represent people. For personal avatars, offer personalization options. As users may choose not to personalize an avatar, provide delightful defaults. When used with a specific logo, avatars can also be used to represent brand.

Thumbnails allude to more information – letting the user peek into content – and assist navigation. Thumbnails let you include imagery in tight spaces.

Avatars make an app feel more personal – and occupy minimal space.

A brand avatar communicates information at a glance.

Hero images

Hero images are images that are usually anchored in a prominent position, above the fold, such as a banner at the top of the screen. They serve to draw in a user, provide context about the content, or reinforce the brand.

Feature

A feature image is a bold, primary point of focus within a heterogeneous layout.

Integrated hero image

Integrated hero images create a setting for heterogeneous pieces of content within a layout. They are not the primary points of focus.

Gallery

Gallery images are bold visual hero images within homogenous layouts in either a grid or as a single image.

Photo Grid

Gallery image