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visual communications


How to improve representation in your visual communication

Published 7 February 2023 in Strategy • 5 min read

In this series, Rebecca Swift, VP Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images, examines the steps brands can take to make their visuals more inclusive. 

As businesses grow more transparent, customers are placing increasingly high demands on the brands they buy from, including on how they represent themselves visually. 

At Getty Images, our VisualGPS research has found that 72% of global consumers expect brands to support diversity and inclusion, with 80% loyal to brands whose business practices support their own values. These numbers are even higher among the younger generation.  

My role as head of the Creative Insights team within Getty Images is to research how visual content is evolving, both in terms of how it is created but also what is represented within moving and still imagery. For the last 20 years, we have been tracking the need for authentic representation in commercial communication. What is clear is that there is a growing demand from both companies and consumers to visualize the world more authentically. 

Our own data also shows that the world is shifting and that our customer base is looking for a more inclusive view of people. People have searched for diversity and inclusion themes on our website three times as much in the last two years than ever before. After specific news-related themes such as COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 and the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, we have seen companies searching for and using more inclusive content every year. This is a clear indication that companies are attempting to connect with their audiences in a way that is contemporary and meaningful. 

In this series for I by IMD, I will be examining how organizations can build a roadmap for improving inclusion in imagery and video in the future. As a starting point, here are three tips for how to think about making your visual communication more representative. 

Break diversity down into different identities 

While our own customers do still use search terms such as “diversity” or “inclusive” or “diversity and inclusion”, in 2022 “diversity at work” has been trending for the first time. However, this does not solve the problem of what the visual looks like. For example, who should be featured in the image or video and how to represent “diversity” without showing a large group of people? 

Scattering of printed portraits
Mixture of multi-ethnic printed portraits scattered over a yellow background.

To improve our own knowledge and to push ourselves and our creators to lead the way when it comes to representation, we have looked at identity in more detail. 

We all have many identities that reflect who we are in a myriad of daily situations, and that combination of identities is what gives us pride in ourselves as individuals. However, we also know that there are dominant identity groups in society and those who do not belong to these groups can be subject to bias and often discrimination (this is further compounded if an individual or group has multiple minority identities). We know that when it comes to visuals, dominant identity is by no means linked to how the demographics of a population are balanced, which thereby has traditionally created an imbalance in who gets to be represented.

Visual comms
A family of two boys doing homework in the kitchen with their mothers. One boy has a hearing aid.

To break down how we might represent people authentically, we have started with looking at identities through the lens of:  

  • Race and ethnicity 
  • Gender 
  • Disability  
  • Body type 
  • Age 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Religion 
  • In some countries, where appropriate, we have also added socio-economic status 

Consider the gaps in your current imagery 

Like any seemingly insurmountable task, the best approach is to break it down into smaller chunks. This also applies to diversity and inclusion in imagery and video. 

If a brand has pledged to improve the balance of race/ethnicity in their content, the first thing to look at is what ethnicities the brand is looking to represent. Are they are looking to improve the mix of people across ethnicities or promote certain ethnicities above others to bring attention to where they have previously been unbalanced in their representation?  

As a next step, it is important to determine what other aspects of their identities should be included – gender identity, age, or body shape, for example – and this is where it becomes more complex. Intersectionality is another important aspect of identity to consider, and certain intersections of the seven (or eight) identities highlight where there is a lack of inclusion in visual content. For example, in all countries we have analyzed, disability is under-represented – but even where there is representation, people of color and people from the LGBT community are less visible. This level of detail is important to make a difference and to bring more diversity to content.  

Businesswoman in wheelchair leading group discussion in creative office.
Businesswoman in wheelchair leading group discussion in creative office.

Ask yourself whether inclusion is present across all contexts 

To get a sense of where authentic representation is working, we have looked at our proprietary data in context of demographic data and cultural nuances, enabling us to build out a view on which stereotypes exist. Who is missing from representation – and how are those represented being visualized? 

Organizations should ask themselves whether they have fallen into the trap of depicting certain groups only within some contexts. For example, are certain ethnicities only seen at work? Are certain age groups more likely to be using the latest technology? Who is taking care of their well-being?  

Senior woman using Virtual Reality Glasses at home
Senior woman using Virtual Reality Glasses at home.

Over the coming months, I will examine each identity in more detail – specifically, the stereotypes that currently exist, but more importantly the opportunities available for companies to fill the visual gaps and create visual brands that meet the expectations of the current and future customer. 

Until then, we have made all our D&I guides available to download here. 



Rebecca Swift

Rebecca Swift

VP Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images 

Rebecca runs the Creative Insights team, who set the content strategy for Getty Images and run global research projects investigating the future of visual communications. She leads the D&I initiatives at Getty Images and is focused on evolving visual representation, leading partnerships such as #ShowUs with Dove (winner of 40+ international creative awards, including a Glass Lion and Effies). Rebecca has a PhD in photography.   


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