When the image compromises the message

They say a picture says more than a thousand words. Once more reason to pay extra attention that an image does not drown the message of a communication piece.
Anyone who has ever watched the series ‘My name is Earl’ will remember “Darnell ‘Crabman’ Turner”, innocent and fun, and very involved in the hilarious stories Earl recounts.
Oh, here is a picture.

image of the crabman from the series My Name is Earl
Has crabman started a new career in modelling for the 2011 Census?

So when the 2011 Census posters went up in Birmingham, I was amused by the choice of model and the effect it had on not just myself – rather than re-enforce the message of the Census, it did quite the opposite and those asked about the content of the poster could all but remember Crabman and his part in the American series…
Census poster for 2011 campaign
The message was drowned by the resemblance of the male model and a character from a tv series

A perhaps even bigger shame is the use of the concept of ‘paper’ changing the UK – the stethoscope just doesn’t visualise this message the same way some of the other posters and materials do. (Not sure about the football, either.)
It made me once again realise what a fine line we tread as design practitioners when choosing the right images to support, not hinder, the message intended. Especially for organisations in the public and charity sector, images are often a visual nightmare rather than a visual aid. Is it PC? Is it featuring all ages, sex, ethnicity, (dis)abilities etc without looking staged?
Some organisations I’ve worked with do prefer not to show people at all but rather use illustration or abstract images to avoid these issues, or they rely on their own photo shoots, which is usually the better option but requires a substantial amount of investment, dedication and vision. Images, like fashion, date with the seasons and mastering the delicate balance between a message and a picture working together instead of distracting from what they are trying to say.

Brand Strategy, Funny, graphic design

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