The Pros and Cons of Using a Full-Screen Background Image

It's always interesting to see the ongoing evolution of web design, moving from plain HTML designs with almost no design elements, through to image-rich designs and then swinging back to a current trend towards minimalist web design. There are definitely cycles in web design where things fall in and out of favor every few years.

Right now the current trend in many of the award-winning web designs you'll find online is back to using one huge image as the background for a website - spanning the entire width of your screen. This was something which web designers experimented with years ago but the bandwidth could never support it i.e. the file sizes were simply too massive for users to bother waiting around for them to load. But it's only now, with high-speed Internet access, that such designs become not only feasible, but also highly desirable from a client point of view.

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Well it's because sites which use one single image as their background make a massive visual impact when users arrive on a site. They no longer have to wait around for the image to load, and the visceral effect these images have just keeps people staring at your site longer than if the huge image wasn't there in the first place. The benefit here is that the longer you can keep a person on your site the more likely you are to be able to engage them. This makes single image backgrounds a win-win from most people's perspectives.

This isn't just idle speculation on our part though, some recent examples of sites with a single image as their primary design focus, which have won major awards, include 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" and some other notable efforts in the automotive industry.

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Should you use a full-screen image as your background?

It's going to depend on what audience you're targeting, but generally speaking using a single massive image as the background for your site is going to attract a lot of attention from your visitors. They're effective, increase visitor engagement and are sure to catch the eye of even the most indecisive web surfer. That's the key really - capturing the human eye long enough for their brain to catch up and start absorbing the rest of your web copy.

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Once you've captured the attention of a visitor you can then expand on that to work towards the visitor conversion result which the website owner wants e.g. lead, sale, callback request, etc. It's as simple as being able to keep a visitor focused for more than 30-seconds, because once you've achieved that level of focus you can expect your website conversion rate to increase dramatically as a result.

Are there any downsides here?

Well the first one is that designs like this can stifle creativity just a little bit, or an awful lot depending on where you're standing. Once clients start seeing designs like these winning awards they'll demand the same type of design for their own website, even if that's absolutely the worst idea in the history of modern web coding. In addition to stifling creativity, sites which use a single large image as their background can also cripple the user-experience once they get past the "wow factor" the image creates.

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Recent changes in the world of SEO (search engine optimization) mean that the speed your site loads at can have either a positive or negative impact on your search engine rankings. This means that your image file size will need to be optimized to the highest possible degree, especially considering some of the images are going to have to span some pretty impressive resolutions.

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So it's going to come down to finding a balance between creating a memorable visual impact, and providing users with a website that they can actually use for more than just a few minutes without tearing their hair out in frustration. This is why it's so important to ensure that there are no scroll bars, that the image loads quickly and that whatever image is used suits the tone and style of the site itself - using flashy or artistic images for the sake of it will achieve no positive result at all.

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