Some time ago we were quite surprised to see this page on Barclays bank’s website. The first bank services that the user would see at the time were these:
* At the time that this article was written, the images had been changed.
We even wanted to tweet a screenshot of that page with a comment like:
“I wonder if this selection of #stockphotos by @barclays is purely random #racism #lookism”
Because obviously Barclays’ designers do not care much about racism, and probably think in stereotypes. Right?
Can Images on Your Website Make You a Racist?
Let’s scroll through a bit and get some idea about Barclays’ perception of their clients.
Hm… What we see here are people of different races, skin colors, and genders. So it starts to seem that there was no bad intention, and maybe not even a hint of racism in the image choices.
But what image should Barclays have attached to the Premier account service?
Turns out they would have had to choose an African, Latin American or Asian woman, or a couple to avoid random racism? (We are ruling out a single male (of any color) because that could raise accusations of sexism.)
So, what we have in the end:
- Seemingly thoughtful designers at Barclays, who tried to represent people of different races and skin colors as potential clients of theirs.
- An unthoughtful photo choice of a white woman in a luxurious interior for a Premier service next to a dark-complexion woman in a “regular” service.
Something feels odd, doesn’t it?
Do Stock Photos Encourage Racism?
It got me thinking: Maybe it wasn’t a mistake? Maybe there are no stock photos (those photos are apparently from stock photo services) that depict wealthy women of color?
Following that thought, I checked out two popular stock photo websites.
Shutterstock results for “wealthy woman” and “woman luxury”:
iStock results for “wealthy woman”:
You can find a couple of non-white woman in the search results, but the thing is that those photos represent more of a “business woman” or “woman thinking about her finances” theme than a “wealthy woman”. Therefore you can’t use a photo of a non-Caucasian female in a luxurious environment, because there are no such stock photos available.
So, this is it. We found the “bad guys”, right? Phew.
Are Photographers to Blame for Lack of Diversity in Stock Photos?
Let’s remind ourselves that images on stock photo websites are almost never created by these sites themselves (apart from a few like our own photo stock — Moose; if you notice sexism or racism there, let us know). Photographers are responsible for the stock photos and what they represent. If it is a specific photo shoot on a yacht or private jet, the photographer or producer are the people choosing a venue and models.
Then we can finally say that we got to the bottom of the question, and random racism in design is caused by photographers, right?
Users Set Trends and Demands
As in almost any field, stock photographers and stock libraries tend to produce what is in demand. This means that most of us probably think about Caucasian women when we need to visualize a wealthy woman. (Thank you, Beyonce, for creating an exception in our minds!)
So can we really judge or blame designers who couldn’t find a safe photo that would make everyone happy? Or a photographer who chose a white woman for a luxurious photoshoot?
Barclays has changed the photo, but not the one of the Premier service — I guess they just didn’t find a suitable one.
The reason why I didn’t want to post that first tweet before looking closer at Barclays’ website and their other images, is that quite often we at Icons8 get accused of being sexist.
This also came up another time because we had an icon of a woman’s breasts.
But we draw new icons based on our users’ requests. Ask for a female boxer or a man’s chest icon, and our designers will draw them ;).
There are two things we can do to shift the reflection of stereotypes in design:
- Let’s do not jump to conclusions or accusations.
- Take a minute to think about if your design project corresponds to reality, or to some outdated stereotypes.
Check our handy tips on black-and-white photography and read about the history of stock photography.
Do you have an interesting article or case study to share with our readers? Let’s get it published.