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Appropriate Use of Images on Web Pages

Document Type: Standard


HHS should use images only when they communicate supplemental information or otherwise enhance understanding. Images must serve a specific informational purpose, i.e., provide support to the content, rather than simply serve as decoration.


A Web site’s graphics should add value and increase the clarity of the information on the site.  Adding unnecessary graphics pushes important content down a page—thus improving the chance it will be missed—and reduces the space available to present other important information.  In addition, users tend to be frustrated if they wait several seconds for a graphic to download and then find that the image does not add any value.  Users also tend to have negative reactions to sites that display photos of agency staff or stock photography that offer no informational value to the content they are viewing.


The use of traditional agency graphics, logos, headers, and mastheads on a Web site is exempt.  Additionally, you are exempt from this standard if:

  • You can justify how an image fits within the mission of your Web site. For example, if your site is geared toward a specialized audience, such as children who may require visual content to learn, then strategic use of graphics is allowed.
  • The purpose of your page is to provide press release photos or event photos.
  • Logical images or icons are strategically used to call attention to a specific part of a page. Again, caution must be used as usability test findings indicate that users ignore images and icons that look like commercial ads.


  • Badre, 2002; Evans, 1998; Nielsen, 1997e; Nielsen, 1999b; Nielsen, 2000; Nielsen, 2003; Spool, et al., 1997; Wen and Beaton, 1996; Williams, 2000.