2015 Stock Visual Reader Survey

stocksurvey1A

Stock Looks and Feels More Like America

Sponsored by Corbis

Two major themes emerge from our 2015 Stock Visual survey of GDUSA readers. One is that stock visuals remain an essential creative resource for graphic designers. For nearly three decades we have tracked the evolution of stock imagery from marginal to mainstream to essential, and in 2015 our readers reaffirm the reason for this trend: society and business have become more visually hungry and more visually sophisticated, and stock imagery provides a vital lifeline in the face of time and budget constraints for creative professionals who must keep up with this burgeoning demand. As we have said before, there has rarely been such a convergence of a product and its times. The other major theme is that stock visual offerings increasingly reflect the way contemporary Americans look and live. A consistent critique of stock imagery has been that it lags behind, and often glosses over, the diversity and fluidity that characterizes 21st century society. Now, a majority of designers acknowledge that stock collections are more inclusive with regard to race, creed, color, gender, age, work, family and lifestyles. There is more work to be done, they say, but the industry is definitely on the right track.

The results and commentary generated by our 2015 annual survey can be reduced to a handful of key take-aways about the present and future of stock visuals for design. Based on nearly three decades of covering this topic, here are our observations:

1. Stock Feeds A Visual Hunger

In 2015, the world is an image-centric place and stock visual use has evolved into an essential designer resource. You can name the reasons why audiences are more visually demanding — easy access to multiple media comes immediately to mind — though the complete answer is above my pay grade. To call stock visuals “essential” was once controversial. No longer. If you simply look at frequency of stock visual use, it is hard to argue otherwise. As a practical matter, frequency remains an all-time, record-breaking, once-unimaginable level. Nearly every designer uses stock visuals in his or her work, and it is not unusual to utilize several images in a project and hundreds over the course of a year. For the first time, our survey finds that roughly three quarters of designers use stock more than 20 times a year, half use stock imagery more than 50 times a year, and nearly one-third use stock imagery more than 100 times.

2. A Bazillion Choices

Stock visuals provide a meaningful option for creative professionals because the central value proposition — choice, accessibility, convenience, affordability, breadth and depth of content — dovetails perfectly with the intense demand for more imagery. This is especially true in the context of the tight budgets, short turnarounds, challenging assignments, multiple media, demanding clients and digital workflow that now shape the graphic design business. Throw in all the improvements in how stock is developed, searched, licensed and distributed, the result is an abundance of choices at a broad spectrum of prices delivered by an increasingly dynamic and responsive infrastructure. As one survey respondent wrote: “Stock offers a bazillion choices at your fingertips.” Three choice-related asides: first, subscriptions continue as a popular way to access large numbers of images; second, royalty free licensing continues to dominate the marketplace but a surprising number of designers still sometimes turn to rights managed options; and, third, unwanted side-effects of abundance are uneven quality and more challenging searches.

3. The End of Skepticism

Stock has achieved legitimacy. It is a widely accepted, largely appreciated and often preferred source of imagery. This may not be news to a new generation of designers, but it is stunning in the broad historical sweep. For years, stock visuals were the subject of stigma, suspicion and skepticism, even as usage consistently grew. As I observed last year, “now we are in the post-skeptical period.” Stock providers are perceived as helpmates who make it possible for creatives to work smarter and stay balanced on the tightrope, as gracefully as possible, that is the creative business of today. Indeed, given the current proliferation of amateur photography, some designers now laud stock photography as a defender of the faith. This change in attitude has also tamped down on the once-raging fear of oversaturation and duplication, and what it would do the creative soul. Concerns about exclusivity and originality still exist but, based on the spirit of this year’s survey, not so much. Not everyone loves stock, but everyone gets it.

4. Stock Looks and Feels (More) Like America

For years, greater stock diversity has topped the wish list of creative professionals. That wish is becoming a reality. According to survey respondents, the stock visual industry is on the right track. Generally, the lodestar for judging “diversity” has been racial, ethnic, religious, gender and age inclusiveness within stock collections. Most readers say this is being achieved. I am intrigued by the related concept of “fluidity” — a term borrowed from our sponsor Corbis and its visual trend experts – which encompasses the sea changes buffeting our lifestyles, workplaces, institutions, behaviors and traditions as well as demography. In this sense, too, the stock agencies are making headway. As one survey taker put it: “While it is hard for any industry to keep up with the dramatic changes in American life, stock visuals are doing a great job at trying. More and more, they reflect the ‘face’ of the country today.” Another comment: “We’re a big, open, energetic, multicultural country and the stock photo companies finally seem to understand it.” Before we get giddy, a contrarian view: “Little progress. Most of the pictures of ethnic groups look like they were made either in California or Florida, and the individuals shown seem to have taken large doses of lithium.” Even those who want faster progress, or point out that is uneven as among specific agencies, acknowledge that the times they are a’changin.

5. Creatives Crave Control

Given the importance of stock imagery to the creative and budgetary process, it is no surprise that designers want to control the decision as to source, image and method of license. More than eight-in-ten designers say they do so, while a mere five percent disclaim any role. The primary reasons for selecting a particular stock provider? Price, quality and searchability remain at the top of the pyramid. Search is a special area of interest to our readers:  designers feel good about improvements in this area and give a particularly loud shout out to stock providers. Robust search, they say, is crucial in their effort to keep up with the flood of imagery and to separate wheat from chaff. On what devices do designers search for imagery? Desktops and laptops largely hold sway versus hand-held devices. Size, apparently, still matters, at least when it comes to screens.

6. Subjects, Media and Channels Multiply

The subjects for which stock is utilized and the media in which imagery appears continues to expand. The perennial go-to subjects — people, business, concepts, lifestyles, technology — remain popular. But many other categories are now in demand, reflecting a constantly evolving economy and culture: for example, multicultural/ethnic images, education and healthcare recently joined the top ten most licensed categories. In the 2015 survey, more than two dozen identifiable categories register significant activity. As for media options, it goes without saying that creatives today work in and across multiple channels. Print remains the number one medium for stock use at 93 percent. At the same time, stock licensing for online design — websites, digital, mobile, what-have-you — continues to soar, topping 85 percent for the first time in this year’s poll. Other types of projects, running the gamut from point-of-sale and packaging to television and film are also in the mix. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents say that the stock images they license are used across multiple channels for the same project. Licensing an image for single channel use is diminishing.

 

Availability + Quality = Usage. It’s a simple equation. As more high-quality images have become available, they have a better chance of filling the needs of designers.
— Chuck Groth, Owner Groth Graphic Design, St. Louis MO

It is like night and day from the past. Stock visuals today are high quality, easy to access, lots of choices.

The content of today’s stock imagery is improving every day. That means higher quality and more realistic images.

I use stock for photos that I absolutely can’t take myself. Stock has gotten easier to find, has better tools to search, and has become more diverse.

Stock imagery continues to improve in both selection and quality. With greater choices, it’s easier to find images that fit particular projects.

Stock is popular because it offers a bazillion choices/options at your fingertips.

If you can’t find a stock image for 99% of your work, you’re shooting product specific.

Faster turn around time. Price and selection keeps getting better. Photography keeps getting better.

Stock is easy to search and can be quickly accessed.

With budgets slimming and deadlines quickening, the price and access that stock provides fit our clients needs better.

There is definitely better quality and variety as opposed to ten years ago. Stock imagery is a quick and easy way to get what I need for a project.

Several reasons why stock visuals are popular: Access to stock images has never been easier (no more CDs and books!); images are often more affordable than in the past; limited time and budget to complete projects.

The quality of stock photography has improved. A big plus: there is less paperwork on our end when we buy a subscription.

Prices have come down significantly in the past years. This combined with the ease of search has made stock imagery more cost effective.

Stock is over-used and has a stale style which makes it easy to spot and makes the user look cheap.

Overall, stock image quality and composition is better, but there are more poor images to sort through. You have to be creative with your key word searches and explore more to pull the right images.

It’s all about the efficiency of technology. 20 years ago, you received a big thick catalog from Corbis or Getty Images and had to request the image to be sent to you on a slide, through the mail. Low res comping images later evolved to CDs. Today, you login, download dozens of comping images within minutes and you can start working right away.

Demands of the industry has made the use of stock imagery practically a necessity; this has, in turn, affected the availability of imagery since there are now thousands of amateurs and professionals willing to share and/or outsource their photography or vector creations almost instantly.

More and more is being put on the creative’s plate, a lot of times there is not sufficient time to create icons and illustrations or photos. That is why stock is so useful.

There is nice stock imagery, and with a subscription it’s very cost effective and provides an excellent alternative.

The content of today’s stock imagery is improving every day. That means higher quality and more realistic images.

Affordable, high-quality digital cameras has allowed more people to enter into the field without a formal education or an agency to supply equipment. There is far more stock available … Even small businesses and individuals can afford quality imagery. This also means there’s more poor-quality stock proportional to the past, but due to sheer numbers it’s easier to find a good image that hits your price point.

Delivery and convenience has changed for the better.

The internet has made access to stock quantity and quality fast and easy.

A lot of my decisions about how to use stock imagery relates to my own growth as a designer. Where I used to search for pictures, I now tend to look for visual metaphors, and I frequently customize vector images to suit client needs.

I’m actually using less than I previously did because of an increasing need for client specific images. Despite that I have noticed more of my clients are searching stock sites themselves. The ease of these sites has reached a broader audience.

In comparison with setting up a shoot, stock offers convenience, affordability and variety.

Turnaround times and the effort required to set up a photo shoot and hire talent is not worth it in situations where all we need is a simple visual.

Stock has become better and more diverse. Plus some clients will not simply not pay for original photos.

A better quality and quantity of stock imagery exists today.

Stock photography offers a fresh look and stylized options for those of us who don’t have a photographer on staff.

Stock is more in demand because people finally realize that imagery is not just a pretty picture, but a way to convey concept and direct the readers attention.

Turnaround times keep getting shorter and shorter. There is no time to schedule and execute a full photo shoot, and clients less willing to pay for full photo shoot.

Stock is popular because good quality is available and for a lower cost. It is more accessible to use for projects that would not have had the budget for stock imagery in the past.

Stock options are better; I work for an organization in which we do not have access to real people/situations in which to take real photos.

Stock is common because everyone is on a PC, so everyone’s a designer. And it is available at a range of price points for every consumer’s need.

Several reasons why stock visuals are popular: Access to stock images has never been easier (no more CDs and books!); images are often more affordable than in the past; limited time and budget to complete projects.

Prices have come down significantly in the past years. This combined with the ease of search has made stock imagery more cost effective.

The content of today’s stock imagery is improving every day. That means higher quality and more realistic images.

The quality of stock photography has improved. A big plus: there is less paperwork on our end when we buy a subscription.

We live in a visual world and dominance of websites. The demand for images in design work is skyrocketing.

In general, there is much better variety in stock collections. Less photo shoots or freelance is needed.

There is better access to better images, due to the growing number of sites, which also allows for a greater difference in prices. There are also more photographers who seem to be selling or offering their images as long as they are recognized for their work.

Stock is popular because it is more affordable, thorough, and the online search engines have helped make it accessible.

Stock prices are definitely lower and more competitive than ever.

I find stock images useful because clients are quicker to buy into a concept or project when they see it.

Demands of the industry has made the use of stock imagery practically a necessity; this has, in turn, affected the availability of imagery since there are now thousands of amateurs and professionals willing to share and/or outsource their photography or vector creations almost instantly.

Stock is getting better and better because it is easier to search for the right image. The search engine in the stock is well elaborated.

Better selection and more specific searches make using stock easier to find exactly what I need. Stock is getting better and better because it is easier to search for the right image. The search engine in the stock is well elaborated.

Here is a dichotomy resulting from so much content. There is better quality out there but also more junk.

Stock imagery has become affordable enough to charge my clients the actual price of the image, or to encourage them to purchase the rights themselves.

Clients are demanding more frequent image change outs for social media; stock visuals are a lifesaver for that reason.

The use of stock imagery has become so popular because it can save a lot of time. Stock imagery is always getting better with larger offerings. Just make sure to use good sites to lessen time spent sorting through the clutter that also builds with time.

Today’s stock is better in the sense that it is more natural looking and the search function is more accurate.

The search is better, quantity has exploded and the quality/value proposition is better.

There is, quite simply, easier access these days to stock visuals through online website searches.

There is a real drive to present unconventional stock that is more relatable, so there is less of a staged feel than in the past.

Stock visuals are the same, but the demand is greater because more people are realizing that good imagery is critical in today’s visual world.

Stock is better than years ago for sure and really good photographers have had to make the adjustment. Clients want images cheaper, faster, plus they have the ability to search and find images. Don’t think that’s a good thing, but it is a factor in the process today.

For my company’s needs, the biggest improvement in today’s stock is the ethnic and gender diversity that didn’t exist ten years ago.

We’re a big open, energetic, multicultural country and the stock photo companies seem to understand that.

While it is hard for any industry to keep up with the dramatic changes in American life, stock visuals are doing a great job at trying to keep up. More and more, they reflect the ‘face’ of the country today.

There is some progress here though I think there is still room for improvement. I struggle to find realistic-looking women in business imagery. I do find more same-sex couples and same-sex parent images.

There is absolutely more diversity in lifestyles and cultures.

Of course, it is better. Stock imagery adapts. They would quickly become irrelevant and overrun if they let it slide.

I’m seeing more diversity in stock images than even a few years ago when I was in school.

I work with freelance clients who request images of diverse populations. I find these images increasingly easy to find.

Yes, stock visuals are changing even faster than society is really moving; they are actually ahead of the curve.

There is not enough multi-racial or multi-ethnic choice and that is a source of immense frustration for me. 1) Too often, a search for “diversity” brings up only African Americans. 2) Business images for senior levels are way too young and often improperly dressed or posed. 3) 50-somethings are NOT senior citizens!

Yes, choices, especially for concepts of diversity, have improved and allow for more creative compositions. Although there are still many posed shots, natural facial expressions and lighting are key to a first-rate image.

Yes, of course. Stock always changes to reflect society. It always has. It always will. Creatives always feel the pulse of society and culture.

The American family has changed. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors and make-up. The stock industry is lagging behind in terms of marriage equality and the fabric of the American family.

I find stock art files to be more inclusive of various cultures.

Stock collections are still not diverse enough; the way women are depicted is pretty archaic.

We can always use more/better photos showing diversity. Anything new and different. I am gradually seeing more cultures being shown in stock, but this is an area that can still use some work.

Stock imagery has kept pace with societal changes. In an effort to be PC, however, many images look artificial.

Diversity in race and gender and lifestyle, yes. But stagnant smiling posed meeting images are still so pervasive that they have now become a parody of good stock imagery. My clients want more candid natural looking shots.

What growing diversity? Things don’t change that much, despite what you see in the news.

More diverse yet in an unforced way.

We need more diversity in professional settings and more people who aren’t necessarily pretty or thin. I am really getting tired of “canned” looking people.

In our organization, we would like to see more multi-cultural or diversity in the image selections. While we do find some images that relate to our Christian organizations, the selection could be much better.

To some extent, yes, there is more selection. However, tapping into these kinds of photos is still challenging.

Yes, of course. Stock always changes to reflect society. It always has. It always will. Creatives always feel the pulse of society and culture.

Yes and no. There is more demand for diversity in stock but I still have a hard time finding the right shots, e.g., a half Asian half, African American female, chef in a proper chef’s uniform. Or multiple shots of the same people/environment so it does not look like stock photography. I know I am being quite specific but sometimes that is what the project demands.

Yes, choices, especially for concepts of diversity, have improved and allow for more creative compositions. Although there are still many posed shots, natural facial expressions and lighting are key to a first-rate image.

We can always use more/better photos showing diversity. Anything new and different. I am gradually seeing more cultures being shown in stock, but this is an area that can still use some work.

In my opinion it is still difficult to find images of different races or, more to the point, those of indeterminate race.

I believe that stock agencies are adapting, and we really value that as we look for multi-cultural representation in images.

There is some improvement … I still think the diversity could be ramped up … a little too white bread overall. I could also use more older adults of all backgrounds.

We do have a lot more options for diversity than in the past but we still have room for improvement, especially in the beauty space.

There is definitely more diversity, however still find some photos to be too staged. In my experience, I find that the depiction of certain medical areas (particularly mental health) are not as well portrayed.

It depends on the stock library is used. Some are limited in a conservative manner while others have moved to reflect the times.

It is getting better, but we still need more diversity in women. It’s really hard to find a good photo of women in the work field.

Change is coming but not always fast enough to meet the needs. There are very few Native Americans. Not quite enough Hispanics. We need vector art to reflect diversity also.

The stock industry is a bit behind the trend but not by much.

Especially on crowdsourced and budget sites, diversity takes a hit. It is better on larger sites which cast models and try to address the issue head-on.

Stock stock sites are getting better at diversity. I wish stock sites would periodically go through and remove dated or cheesy imagery so that we don’t have to wade through it to find what we’re looking for.

Yes, the stock companies are offering more alternatives. Competition has generated within the stock photo market to keep up with novices with all types of cameras.

We still need more diversity in models and lifestyle images. There are more options then ten years ago but it can be challenging to find quality images that reflect the diversity I’m often searching for.

Yes, there are a lot of options for the same picture with different ethnicity in the picture.

Some stock houses have gotten better, but I hate the ones that still show primarily white people smiling at the camera.

Founded in 1989 by Bill Gates, Corbis® is a leading digital content and worldwide entertainment rights company. Corbis empowers agencies, brands, publishers, and other media producers to capture the attention of audiences worldwide by integrating premium and timely content into their communications. From exceptional creative, documentary, and breaking entertainment content, to product and media integration services, Corbis helps elevate projects, amplify brands, and captivate any audience. To see more visit corbisimages.com