The appropriate use of relevant photographs is a crucial part of content marketing, but it is perhaps even more sensitive in the development of learning materials for staff training. In this post, Warren Mara of Sysdoc talks about the power of an image to influence the wider audience in the process of learning, and how to ensure you have chosen the right one.

Warren Mara of Sysdoc

Whether you are a multinational company or a local venture, the driving force in your business is the people behind it. By all means, a solid marketing strategy and painless customer service are also major ingredients to success. But the cherry on the top, the aspect that will consolidate and perpetuate this success, is nurturing a team of competent and stimulated professionals who are up to speed with the ever-changing demands of the industry. Learning solutions are a constructive – even if often underestimated – way of ensuring employees are equipped with the necessary skills to navigate said changes. And a crucial facet of any learning programme is how compellingly it uses language – particularly visual language – to impart knowledge. This is where photography comes in.

Traverse of Hochstetter Dome, Tasman Glacier by Occasionalclimber

"We're all about learning, visual communication, conveying information effectively and ultimately influencing the way people behave in business," says Warren Mara, the Acting CEO of Sysdoc, a Kiwi-founded and now international Business to Business consultancy which helps organisations improve their workflow by streamlining processes and enhancing training programmes. Coming from a Learning and Design background, Warren combines his experience and passion with Sysdoc's technology-driven, experiential methods to create bespoke learning experiences for their clients. Relevant visual imagery is key to keeping people engaged, so Warren and the team are constantly on the lookout for the right photograph to illustrate learning materials, process guides, videos, and other supporting media. Yet, when turning to traditional stock libraries, they often struggle to find what they are looking for.

Book with tribal emblem bookmark outdoors by Artana

In the opinion of Sysdoc’s design team, sourcing photos to use in learning is much like sourcing photos for websites, in that reaching a balance between aesthetics and context is of the essence: "In both situations, we search for an image that is going to give the viewer a feeling that will help them understand the context we're trying to portray. We also look for aesthetically pleasing photography, to help create a feeling of balance and colour contrast on a page that we're designing."

Still, it is not uncommon for people to prioritise beauty over relevance when sourcing photos for learning materials. The result is that the right side of our brain gets distracted by the aesthetics whilst the left side strains to fit the images into the context. Whatever the case, we lose track of what is being discussed. "Potentially, the learner won't connect with the material or the experience," explains Warren. "And if it's sufficiently unsuited, then the image can become a distraction from the rest of the learning objectives."

The important thing, then, is to ensure that the aforementioned feeling is clear cut: it should supplement the subject matter – not stand in its way. Sysdoc has found that keeping things generic when searching for photographs for learning helps with that, as “the images will be less likely to be misconstrued or become alienating for people." However, in the stock photography world, generic is a double-edged sword. And when relying on traditional stock libraries, the overwhelming number of cookie-cutter photos narrows your chances of finding something unique and relevant to the topic on hand — conversely increasing the potential downsides for picking the “wrong” one.

Girl talking on the phone by Palliser Photography

So how can you be sure the image you're thinking of using will help – not hinder – the process of learning? "I think a lot of us have a gut instinct on which image feels right and we place a lot of importance on that,” says Warren. “Luckily, humans have been conditioned to think similarly when interacting with visuals, so I think for the most part this is an effective approach."

There's also the need to create an opportunity for learners to resonate. Which, in the case of Sysdoc NZ, serving NZ-based customers, means localising the images for a New Zealand audience, for example, a Kiwi employee is more likely to resonate with a picture taken in a temperate rather than tropical climate. And the most effective way to make sure the feeling of an image is genuine is to know where your images come from.

Get access to a wide range of fresh and affordable New Zealand photographs in the Excio Image Library.

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