iStockphoto.com, now online for over 10 years, is one of the web’s most popular resources for stock images, media and design elements. The site has over 80,000 contributors, approximately 7 million members, and it is localized in 12 languages with more on the way. iStock recently launched a new version of its website, focused on their community of contributors, easier searching and making their various file types easily accessible.
I had a chance to speak with iStock’s COO Kelly Thompson and lead Creative Director, James Leal-Valias, about the site redesign and features available for graphic designers.
What was the main focus of the iStockphoto.com redesign?
We redesigned to add features and make more file types available, as well as to implement a new advanced search, which is the most significant change. There is also new browsing functionality, and we made the site more client focused, with the “participate” dropdown menu for contributors.
To allow the photos to be the focus we used larger images, a more muted color palette and we took out the changing masthead. This way there is more of a focus on contributors’ work and more contributors can be featured.
What process did you go through to complete the redesign?
We started over a year ago, doing research on our two audiences: those contributing files and those looking for files. We wanted to make the site clearer in terms of how to get into the search and what types of files are available.
The design process started with paper prototyping of wireframes and global usability studies. Some of these studies used actual design mockups and some used wireframes. We set up scenarios and to see how users interact with open-ended tasks, where they click, and what options they chose when there were multiple ways to do something.
What has iStock done in the redesign, or in general, that focuses on graphic designers and how they search and use your site?
The focus of this redesign was significantly aimed at making the user experience smoother for clients. As part of the redesign, extensive user interviews and testing were conducted and of course graphic designers were included in both stages of the project. We now have many areas to promote our contributors' work, articles, collections and lightboxes. Additionally, the refined architecture and back-end improvements make searching and finding the perfect file that much easier.
What is going on from a technical perspective in the background of iStock searches that make the search results more relevant for users?
We track how people interact with images and what they click on, and use that for better results later. We also take into account the language and country of the user. For example, a search for “election” from a user in Europe will likely bring up different results than from someone in the U.S.
What search tips would specifically help the graphic design community?
In our advanced search, you can specify colors and what white space is available using our “copyspace” feature, and you can choose if you want vertical or horizontal images. Also, if you know what you want, be specific. For example, enter a type of dog instead of just “dog.” Use lightboxes (which are being redesigned for a more user-friendly interface) and our iPhone app to work with clients.
You can also try looking through the user lightboxes on the photos page and in-house lightboxes, and the trends in the contributor’s lounge. Try sorting by most popular, or sort by downloads and start at the end if you want to find files that have not been used a lot.
The lightboxes are such an important feature for designers and their clients, and you mentioned some changes to the lightbox interface to make it easier to use. What changes, if any, have been implemented and can you share some of the changes that users can expect to see in the coming months?
Presently, the lightboxes still function more or less the same as they used to. They are now always visible from our new toolbar though, and as we roll out more components of the redesign, you'll see how that lightboxes will evolve to become an even more useful feature. I can't share much about what's coming specifically for lightboxes, but I can tell you that it will be industry-leading and make lightboxing even easier.
There are certain elements that designers are often looking for, aside from photos. Can you recommend any specific lightboxes, contributors or collections that focus on icon sets, backgrounds, textures and other "design elements?"
With close to 90,000 contributors, it's hard to recommend just a few. Our illustrators are all very talented with unique styles that fit a whole variety of design needs. I would encourage designers to look at some of the lightboxes created by our content teams and by some of our contributors. Some examples of great work are here, here and here.
What tips would you give to a designer looking to become a contributor on iStock, specifically for illustration? Are there any areas where you see an opportunity for a contributor to provide something not already available on iStock?
The best tip I would give is to have a really good look at what other contributors are doing and what's selling well. Then look at current design trends to find areas where you feel you can add something new and unique to the mix. From there you can formulate a strategy for yourself to produce stock illustrations that clients are looking for. Additionally, a unique style that you can market and own for yourself will go a long way to make your work stand out from the crowd.
What are the most dramatic changes you've seen in the stock world in the 10 years since you launched iStock?
Quality of the imagery would be number one. You can now find images ranging from what some would consider typical stock, such as two business men shaking hands, to collections like Vetta on iStock that offer highly art-directed, unique images. The second most dramatic change would have to be the addition of other media types into the stock landscape. Four years ago iStock launched the sale of royalty-free stock videos and other stock sites soon followed suit. Audio followed, joining Flash files to round out a full media offering.