Personal Stories Over Kids with Test Tubes

The title of this post is a little odd, but I’ll explain below.

One thing you notice when looking at a lot of Catholic school websites is the fact that they are all very different, but they all have very distinctive repeating patterns.

For instance, one of my favorite patterns to spot is the types of images used to show students. There are a lot of students playing music, a lot of them just smiling at the camera, but there is a bizarrely high number of images of students with test tubes in the school’s science lab.

A lot of them.

I know the thought that is going on behind these images: “we need to show how students are using facilities through learning.” That is a perfectly valid and important thing to communicate on a school’s website, especially for potential donors. Seems perfectly understandable – we need a science image – get those kids gathered around some equipment doing science stuff and we are on our way.

Here’s the problem though: I don’t think this really engages anyone in the way that we need it to. These images area always very passive; they are unnamed students doing something recognizable but not in any sort of context.

Then I clicked over to a site I like a lot,, and I took a look at what is front and center: stories. Here is a University that must have hundreds of thousands of images to choose from of students doing all sorts of appealing things at Notre Dame, and the first thing we are hit with are specific stories about what is going on at Notre Dame accompanying images that are in a clear context.

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Visitors are going to engage with a personal story where the images have context more than something they recognize as posed stock photography, even if it is your school’s students in your school.

Yes, it is more work. A simple picture is much easier to put up there than a story that needs to engage and needs to be replaced when it is stale. However, the payoff is more visitor engagement, and can yield much better results than the test tube kids can.