The Internet has become extremely important in our daily lives. And more importantly, the Internet requires many developers to think more graphically. Twenty-five years ago, computers were mostly text-based with some little graphics. The Internet was about to be born and graphics was mostly restricted to small icons and images with a limited amount of colors. When you were lucky, your graphics card would be a VGA card, able to handle images with 256 colors at resolutions of 640×480 pixels. A need for a graphic standard was required back then and a few new formats were born.
The PCX format, created by the now-defunct Zsoft Corporation, turned out reasonable successful because it supported up to 256 colors with an extra color palette that allowed the selection of 256 colors from any of the true-color images. It also supported data compression, making it reasonable small. Yet the decompression method was pretty fast, thus the processor would not need to work hard to display the image.
The PCX format has extended to true-color more recently but the JPG format turned out to be a better format. Since processors started to improve their performance, the more complex compression of the JPG format was fast enough to use and resulted in smaller files, although the images would lose some details.
Another popular format was the GIF format, that allowed images with 255 colors plus a transparent layer. (Or 256 colors without transparency.) This format is still popular since it’s great for logos and cartoons and it allows animations. And the compression of GIF files would reduce the image considerably in size without losing any details.
The PNG format has become more popular and was created as successor of the GIF format. It was needed because modern graphics required more colors and there was a demand for a better transparency layer. The PNG format uses 24-bits or 48-bits for its colors allowing more colors than the human eye can detect, plus an alpha channel (24-bits only) allowing images to define the transparency level of each pixel to be anything between transparent and opaque. This was great to e.g. create dirty glass windows or thin, silk nightgowns as graphics.
There are, of course, many other graphic formats but I want to talk about art, not formats. And this time, I want to talk about Pavel Kiselev, also known as photoport (NSFW), who likes to create glamorous pictures of pretty women. Today, he posted this picture of Irene, of one of his models. (I’ve licensed it for personal use, and this is my personal blog so it should be okay.)
Well, okay… I do have to keep in mind that I wanted to relate this to software development so I should not distract myself by continuously looking in those pretty eyes. So, back to the software development part…
When you’re designing websites, you have to keep in mind that you will need a lot of graphics. Something simple like an icon to display in the browser is already a requirement these days, else people have some trouble finding your site among their favorites. They can, of course, read the labels in the menu but most people will glance over all icons first and clicking on the icon that they recognise as your icon. Without the icon, they have more trouble finding you so never forget to add a Favicon to your site! Something that people will easily recognize as your brand.
Next, your site will need a logo and a background image. Or at least a logo. The best logos are PNG or GIF images, because they are small and allow transparency. The image of Irene would be bad as logo since it’s big and has a lot of bytes. When people visit your site with a slow internet connection, it would just look bad if the logo takes too long to download. Thus, keep it small yet detailed enough to be recognisable.
The background image might be bigger, unless you’re designing websites for mobile devices. For mobile devices, no background image would be better since it will take less bandwidth. Many mobile devices are accessing the Internet through providers who charge by the megabytes of data sent or received. Thus, for mobile sites you need to keep the amount of data to an absolute minimum, else it becomes expensive to visit your mobile websites forcing visitors to stay away when they’re roaming around…
But a favicon, logo and background aren’t always enough. Let’s forget the mobile devices for now and focus on the regular browsers and users who pay a fixed price for their connection. Your website will probably offer some services to customers and you need them to easily recognise what they’re looking at. And these days, more and more people dislike reading descriptions and prefer to see something more graphical. You might consider hieroglyphs on your website but not many people are capable of reading ancient Egyptian. You you need your own set of icons and images for the most important actions on your website. Preferably icons with an extra label next to it.
Take a look at your browser and find the following buttons: Back, Next, Refresh and Home. Did you read some text to find them? Most likely, you found them by looking at the images. Arrows for back and next buttons, an arrow in a circle for the refresh button and a symbol of a house for the home button. Images that have become standard so make sure you have a few of your own to put on your own website. Especially when you want navigation buttons on your own site. However, do keep in mind that you either have to create these images yourself or get a proper license for the images created by someone else. Considering that many icons are already in the public domain or have been created under a Creative Commons license, it should be no big problem to find any for free.
Next, you will probably need images for the products that you want to sell or display. While Irene looks very pretty, I would not use it when I want to sell socks. I would use a picture of socks instead. And make sure I have licensed that picture or created it myself. Preferably, I would create multiple images at different sizes so I can display thumbnails first and a larger version if the user wants to see more details. Again, this would speed up loading your site.
It does create a bit of a challenge, though. Would you resize the image to a thumbnail dynamically or will you store the image as thumbnail and original format? Both have their advantages. Dynamic resizing will allow you to change the thumbnail size when you like and even allows you to create all kinds of custom sizes. However, your server will need more processing power to do the resizing, which is slow if your original images are created at huge resolutions. (Like most of my artwork.) If you’re expecting a lot of visitors, storing images at different sizes would improve performance considerably but will require more disk space, which could be a minor problem when you have your site hosted and have to pay for the storage per megabyte. Then again, hosts don’t charge much for extra disk space these days, if they’re even charging anything at all.
The image of Irene would be practical for dating sites and sites for bathing products. Her hair has a wet look, giving the impression that she just washed it. She also looks very seductive which would certainly attract attention of many men and probably a few women too. However, on dating sites the members would probably recognise her as a professional model and thus consider it a fake image. She’s too pretty to use a dating site. You’d probably scare a few members away if you would use this image. It would still look great for selling shampoo, though.
So, you’re designing a website and thus you will need images to fill it up. This is often the biggest problem for many companies. In many cases, developers will just use Google to find some image and copy it to the project, ignoring the need for any license. They have good reasons to work this way, because adding proper images isn’t a real task for developers. But it could cause legal troubles if the site is published and some photographer recognizes his images. Without a proper license, it could cost you hundreds of euros to correct the situation and that’s without any other legal costs. Thus it is really bad when developers have to search for the proper images themselves.
A better solution would be by creating placeholder images. Provide the developers with some dummy images that you’ve created yourself by adding a textual description to a newly created image at the preferred size. Make sure it has a proper filename too. This placeholder can then be used by the developer to insert in the proper location, allowing him to continue his work while you start to look for a nice image to replace this placeholder. This will allow time to get a proper license or to make it yourself. Once you’re about to publish the site, all you have to do is replace the placeholders with the images that you want to display.
One more, very important thing to remember. When you get a license for any image that you use, make sure that you keep track of the specific details of the license. It would be best if you have your own database where you can store the image with more information about where you’ve licensed the image, where you found the image and the license and the name of the author. You will need this information if the author or some company representing the author finds your image online and thinks you don’t have a proper license.
Of course, there’s a risk of having a fraudulent license. You might have gotten a license from someone pretending to be the author. This is a risk which you might avoid by keeping track of the origins of every image used by your organisation. And yes, it’s a lot of additional bookkeeping. With this information about where you got your license, you will have a good excuse to get away without any financial damages if the license turns out to be fraud. If you can continue to use the image will depend on the local legislation of the country where your organisation is located and the legislation of the country where your website is hosted.
My personal preference for images is to just create it myself. This takes time and I need opportunities to create those images. For CGI artwork, my computer is fast enough to render an image in the background while I continue to work on developing my sites. Still, I am limited to one image per computer at any time and my license for Vue limits me to using the software on just a single computer. Rendering can easily take a few hours, even days, so I have to be patient.
Of course, I could just take one of my digital cameras but that often means that I need a model, a place and the right weather if I’m going to take pictures outside. This is a lot of work for a bunch of images and I will need to do extra work on those photos once I’ve taken them. They need to be cropped, lighting needs to be adjusted, colors need to be enhanced. This is just too much work for a software developer to do. Thus, you’d better hire a professional to do this work if you don’t have someone in your organisation dedicated to this. Do make sure the photographer you hire will do a “Work for hire” so you’re the official author. Otherwise, the photographer will have influence on how you can use the photos he took!
So, organisations will have a complex task of maintaining licenses and their own images. A lot of organisations do tend to forget about these details which can result in costly problems. Make sure your developers will have something to work with while they are developing. Make sure they don’t have to waste time on those images themselves since developers are costly too. They should focus on the code, not the graphics themselves. Make sure someone in your organisation will manage all images and who is responsible for checking anything that’s about to be published for unknown images. If the image isn’t in the system maintained by the image manager, then you should block the publication until this is fixed.