Essentials, Next Steps and Deep Cuts: looking to iTunes as inspiration for image gallery organization
In Apple's iTunes music store, iTunes Essentials presents curated introductions to specific artists and genres of music. In a stroke of absolute genius, they throttle the experience by offering a set of playlists of increasing depth. We can -- and probably should -- look to this example when designing our image gallery presentations.
As background, we should take a moment to consider statistics about visitor behavior on websites. In his article Carousel Interaction Stats, Erik Runyon concludes that ...
... as the number of features increases, the click-throughs on sub-features decreases dramatically ...
And while he is speaking specifically about feature carousels on websites, his findings apply can be applied to a wider range of Web content, including image galleries. So we might extrapolate from his findings within our own context to say that:
- As the number of images in our galleries increases, visitors are increasingly unlikely to view the entire gallery.
- As the number of pages in our galleries increases, visitors are increasingly unlikely to browse to subsequent pages.
As photographers, we publish images because we want them to be seen. But we often publish far more images than our visitors will take the time to wade through; I know the truth of this, because I've been at this Lightroom thing for seven years now, and in that time have seen a lot of your websites ... Sorry. =/
Except for a the most extreme cases, I won't tell you to publish fewer images. But it's delusional to think that anyone is going to wade through a deluge, and we should adjust our expectations and then our presentations accordingly.
And for the record, I too am guilty of publishing (probably) too many images. But because my personal site is a record of my travels, not a portfolio, I'm comfortable with my published volume. Still, I do make tremendous efforts to keep my numbers under control, and I'm constantly adjusting the size and contents of my collections.
Now, let's take this conversation back to iTunes.
For iTunes Essentials, tracks are organized into playlists of increasing depth: The Basics, Next Steps, Deep Cuts and Complete Set. Let's take a look at the iTunes collection for the incomparable Electric Light Orchestra!
Electric Light Orchestra were a British rock group from Birmingham, England, who released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986 and another album in 2001. That's a lot of music, an amount that would probably be overwhelming for someone coming to the band as a new listener. And it's safe to assume that a new listener would be investigating the band having already heard and enjoyed one or two of their big hits. And so we rope this new listener into the band by highlighting a selection of their greatest hits and most beloved songs, The Basics.
"Evil Woman", "Mr. Blue Sky" and "Livin' Thing" stand among ELO's most classic tracks. They're brilliant songs, and comprise our best opening salvo.
In designing your image presentations, put your strongest work at the fore.
The Home page of your website might serve as "The Basics" playlist of your oeuvre, the 15-to-25 images that you absolutely want every visitor to your site to see.
For your individual image galleries, front load each gallery with the best images of that collection. As visitors move through a collection of images, regardless of the collection's size, it becomes increasingly unlikely with each image that the visitor will continue on to subsequent images. It's no reflection on you; it's just the principles of fatigue and falloff at work. The visitor's attention will wander, they might get sidetracked (maybe your stunning images of Bali have inspired them to research a Bali vacation of their very own), it's dinnertime, quitting time, or the kids might demand their attention in another room. At some point, for whatever reason, they are going to close your website and go do something else. Don't hide your best images so deep in your gallery that your audience may never get to them before wandering off to other things.
For many, it will be enough to load "Evil Woman" and "Mr. Blue Sky" onto their smartphones, then move onto the next band's greatest hits. But those who go a bit deeper will find much to love: "All Over the World", "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" and "Confusion", for example.
On page two of your galleries or just a little further down the first page, reward the visitors who stick with you with some more of your photographic excellence. While "The Basics" comprise a very limited number of your very best work, your "Next Steps" images will comprise the bulk of your presentable work. While not your most iconic images, your visitor might still find their favorite or most meaningful photos here. Taste is subjective, after all.
It may not be ELO's most essential song, but "Eldorado" is still quite a good listen.
The deep cuts won't be essential, but should serve to round out the experience, to highlight memorable moments, to fill in the gaps in time or to show something genuine rather than posed, captured instead of composed, etc. Provide color, in the metaphorical sense.
The Complete Set
Not a tier unto itself, but just all of the above. The listener who gets through the entirety of ELO's collection will have heard and hopefully enjoyed "Rain Is Falling", "So Serious" and all the rest, and will hopefully come away from it all with a well-rounded and positive impression of Electric Light Orchestra as a band.
Some images standout, while others comprise the connective tissue of a given collection. Depending on the nature of the image set, such connections may be of greater or lesser importance to the overall presentation, but it's something to keep in mind as you go: not only the impact of each singular image, but how the collection shapes up and the impression it leaves as a whole, whether you're communicating a complete or truncated experience to the visitor who sticks with the presentation front-to-back.
Are you the sort of person who listens to the singles and the greatest hits compilations, or the sort who goes in for albums? I like albums, as I feel they provide a more rounded picture of where a band is and what they're producing at a particular time in their career.
Some parting thoughts on this pleasant Monday afternoon ...
Pagination is good, and for large collections essential for gallery and browser performance, but don't hide your best work on page two. Put The Basics and Next Steps on the first page, and leave page two for the Deep Cuts.
You can ensure the majority of your audience will get to see "The Basics" by putting them on your Home page or creating a first-in-list gallery of your best work. This is particularly important if your standard galleries present images in chronological (capture time) order, where some of your best work may very well be at the end of a collection.
Not everyone will come to your site looking for the same thing. Some people are only interested in your singles, while others will be keen on your albums. Cater to both types.
Most importantly, don't stress. If you don't enjoy it, it's not worth doing. Put "Mr. Blue Sky" on the stereo, turn up the volume and smile until it hurts. And if ELO isn't your bag (why?!), then maybe you'd rather jam to Sigur Rós.
Sound off in the comments if you have something to say, or if you just want to share your favorite ELO song. :-D