Photography and illustrations are powerful and emotive tools that express our values just as strongly as colours and typefaces.
The NHS is not only about making people well. It’s also about keeping them healthy and helping them to make informed choices about their health. And the images that we use in our communications need to reflect this.
When selecting images for use in NHS communications, think about whether they:
Images and graphics are widely used in the NHS. For example:
All of these images communicate in different ways, and all will say something about our identity and our values.
Images and illustrations can enhance our publications if they follow and express our principles. It’s difficult to give hard and fast rules about such a varied subject, but the following points and examples give some guidance.
Comment: not every picture actually has to promote health, but avoid those that contradict our core purpose.
Comment: obviously, not every picture has to be of a person, but if it’s a straight choice between a building and a person, choose the person.
Comment: this is sometimes a difficult principle to judge. Use your instinct – if it makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably wrong. Using humour in a healthcare environment can appear disrespectful. Only use humour if you can do so in a way that shows professionalism, respect and care.
Comment: this applies mostly to images that are intended to give information. With drawings, use well-drawn pictures that are easy to understand. They can be modern or stylized so long as they are professional and clear.
Comment: not every image can show every range – but think about the overall message that your picture selection is giving.
Comment: think about the purpose of the picture and make sure it does its job well.
These guidelines should help you think about images, but they cannot cover every decision you have to make. You need to use your judgment and discretion. In particular, avoid clipart or any other prefabricated images from the internet. These suggest a lack of effort and imagination, and can risk looking like a crude ‘cut and paste’, rather than careful selection. The quality of such images, like that of other illustrations, can also be hard to control.
In general, photography offers a stronger and more accurate representation of real life. In most environments, photography is preferable to cartoons and illustrations. When searching for photography, make use of the NHS Photo Library, www.nhs.uk/photolibrary, which contains a vast range of relevant and sensitive images.
Last updated: 28/05/10