What kind of imagery do you use when talking about the death penalty?

I was out west a few months ago, working with Rakesh Mohan and his army of awesome. In the past, I had pressured them to use graphics in their reports and slides. And they did! Only the pictures they chose were government buildings. Like, a report on teacher quality would have maybe had a pic of the state department of education building. Yeah, not exactly compelling, amirite?

So Graphics Level 2 was about picking out relevant, relatable, moving graphics that connect the audience to their topic. The amazing part of my work with them was that as soon as we started talking, they quickly generated heaps of ideas for most of their topics.

Then they said, “yo Stephanie, this is sweet and all but what do we put on the cover of our report about the death penalty?”

[sound of crickets chirping]

Not a simple answer! I chewed on this for a while.
It depends on the message you want to convey to the audience.

(Herewith I share some super basic sketches – the kind of thing you should be doing while you think about your topic so as to save a mountain of time when you go online to search the stock photo site.)

If you are anti death penalty
you probably wanna highlight the life a prisoner could have if spared, so good pic choices might be a prisoner and her family in the visiting room, the prisoner being productive making license plates, stuff like that.

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If you are pro death penalty
you might want to focus on justice, with imagery of gavels, or on low crime communities, with pics of kids playing in parks and whatnot.2014-09-17 02_58_05

If you want more humane death penalty options
how about pics of the tools used, like an empty electric chair, a syringe, etc.2014-09-17 02_58_56

If you want to talk about the people involved in that system
perhaps you’d do well with stock photos of their uniforms – a prison jumper, a judge’s cloak, a nurse’s scrubs.2014-09-17 02_59_49

If you are just reporting facts and have to stay neutral, like Rakesh
think about no pictures, per se. But still, include graphic elements like big blocks of color or simple shapes so the report is engaging and professional without swaying one way or the other.

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Lots of options, eh? So the question isn’t as simple as “what graphic do we pop on the report cover?” Its actually “what’s the message we are trying to get across here?”

PLEASE do not just start searching on “death penalty” at your favorite stock photo site. While those sites can be super powerful, they can’t predict your message. With your content and your context in mind, brainstorm with your team for a few minutes. Sketch! THEN go searching with much more specific keywords in your search bar.