Drop the goldfish

goldfish shoal

As cliches go, it’s top of our list. We’ve got nothing against goldfish, (in fact, we used to like them) but they make pretty boring pets and equally dull pictures on your website.

Over recent years they’ve come to represent ‘we’re different’ in a very samey way, particularly in the consultancy space where we have lots of clients. Now, whenever we see goldfish on a website, we don’t think, ‘they’re refreshingly original,’ we think, ‘zzzzzzzz.’

Goldfish aren’t the only offenders. Other visual snooze buttons include:

Jigsaw pieces to represent ‘we make connections/we’re a crucial part of a bigger whole.’

Molecules to represent ‘what we do is technical/scientific/so complicated to explain that we won’t even try.’

to represent ‘we’re the missing link between x and y’

Handshake to represent ‘we are as good as our word.’

Stock shots of offices that aren’t your own to represent ‘we work in an office.’

Magnifying glasses on newspapers
to represent ‘we pay attention to detail/your news page.’

Hands on a computer keyboard to represent ‘we work on computers/we’re up to date technology-wise.’

This list goes on. We’re sure you’ve got your own un-favourites, please do share them below.

The serious point to this is that design and content need to work together. The right words can explain exactly how you are original and different far better than a hackneyed visual cliche. Clever design engages and makes connections so you really can drop the goldfish.

And just like a good writer has an extended vocabulary, good designers look beyond page one of the stock shots to find arresting and relevant ways to illustrate your message. It means a longer thinking phase, with writer and designer working together to find new metaphors to illustrate your proposition, but that’s good news for you and your business. Thought and collaboration creates stronger brands and smarter websites – and that’s got to be good.

At Valuable Content we work closely with excellent designers. If you’d like us to help with your web project, call me on 07985 015300

More articles to help you with your website:

Seven signs you website needs spring cleaning

How to make your homepage a hit

Five ways to make me leave your website immediately

How to write your About Us page

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi, Sharon.

    I’d agree with your list entirely – with my own un-favourite being the stock photos of the impossibly attractive staff against hi-tech office backdrops. No workplace I’ve ever had looks like that!


  2. cut-out linked-up paper ‘team’ people make me wince/yawn

    wide-open wispy-cloud blue skies to show ‘great vision’ is hackneyed and ironic

    ..and simply ANYONE caught mid jumping to show their dynamism should be bludgeoned along with the marketing department who ‘thought’ of it and the photographer who sold a little of their soul to carry it out.

  3. Right on! It is challenging sometimes to find unique and engaging stock photos to represent abstract ideas without falling back on the cliche’s, but it is worth the effort. I’m sure I haven’t always succeeded.

    The two hands shaking is the worst one for me. I would also add the young professional pretty brunette looking into the camera smiling with a small headset on to represent customer support.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Heath. And I’d forgotten the headset brunette for customer support! Totally agree – she’s got to go!

  5. The random girl with the headset on to illustrate customer service and jigsaw images make me cringe. I also think building blocks and lightbulbs should be avoided unless building or electricity is relevant to the content.

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