When you browse through our website, looking at our product pages, you get a very different view than you may get from other software producers. One of the main differences is that there’s not a screenshot in sight. What you see instead are atmospheric, conceptual images. That’s not because we haven’t got software to show, or because our interfaces don’t look nice. It’s because we want to accentuate the things you can do with our products. And that is something that is difficult to capture in a couple of screen grabs.

Above: image on the Akvo RSR product page. It shows a neighbourhood on a hill in Monterrey, Mexico. The city — like any other city — forms a physical network (its streets) and an intangible network (amongst its inhabitants) where people communicate with each other and look after (monitor) each other. Photo by Daniel Lozana Valdés.

In conceptual art the artist tries to convey a concept or a message through her work. By approaching images that relate to our products in a similar way, we try to show the bigger picture. A lot of our products are difficult to explain in one line of text, as they help our partners do more then one thing. If it is difficult to explain what a product does in one sentence, then how can you capture that complexity in one image? Yes, a screenshot is great, it lets you see what the product looks like, but does it tell you what the product does?

Above: main image on the Akvo Flow product page. It shows a house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and barren-looking land, referring to the fact that Flow really does work anywhere. Photo by Elizabeth Lies.

Take Akvo Lumen for instance. It is an online data transformation platform that helps you to make sense of your data. It can also help you create visualisations and dashboards, which you can update automatically, so you can share your data with others.

While looking for an image that combines such complex processes I stumbled onto a photograph of an artist, who is dipping a paint brush into a pot of paint. There are other pots of paint in the image too, as well as some cleaning cloths and other artist’s tools. It gives the impression of a vibrant studio, where the artist is working on his latest piece.

It’s a fitting comparison to Lumen as our ‘artists’ (developers) are currently still working on this new product.  The cleaning cloths are an indirect reference to data cleaning. The selection of paints and the possibility of mixing them hints at the ability of Lumen to combine data sets. The paints which, thanks to the artists skills, will result in a piece of art, indicate the ability to visualise data and share it with the world. Try capturing that in a screen shot.

Above: conceptual image that hints at the kind of things you can do with Akvo Lumen once it’s launched. Photo by russn_fckr.

With Akvo Caddisfly we’ve been using a different kind of imagery. Caddisfly differs from our other products as it’s not just software, it also contains a hardware component. Having something physical to show, we were able to experiment with different types of photos. Photography used to show what Caddisfly does is more often than not product photography; images of people using the hardware to take water quality readings, shot in a way that best shows off the hardware. The photos make Caddisfly look attractive, even desirable. You want to study it, hold it in your hands, play around and experiment with it.

Above: Akvo Caddisfly product photography. Photo by Abhay Kulkarni.

Obviously the thing with Caddisfly is that it is recognisable due to the shape of the hardware. If someone was holding a phone using Flow, it would just look like a person holding a phone as the software part would be invisible. It could look like the person is texting or on social media instead of using Akvo tools. That said, the attractive yet down to earth, what-you-see-is-what-you-get vibe the Caddisfly images have, makes me rethink the way we’ve been handling photography.

A while ago we also experimented with different kind of visuals for Akvo Sites. As a bit of an Instagram addict I was influenced by the beautiful collage style photography and vignettes that the platform is so famous for. I turned my living room into an improvised photography studio, and set up monitors and computers showing some of the Akvo Sites. I then added accessories and details that you would find in an office and photographed the scenes for our website. The desk scenes probably look nothing like our partners’ actual desks, but it could be the kind of desk they aspire to have: fun bright and reasonably clutter free, with an Akvo Site of their own on the screen.

Above: Akvo Sites Instagram ‘deskie’ style product photography. Photos by Linda Leunissen.

In the next two months we’ll be experimenting with a new approach to photography. We’re going to try to make the intangible tangible. In parallel, we’re currently shaping the way our service offering is going to look. By this I mean our portfolio of services we offer to help people capture, understand and share data is maturing and expanding, and how we communicate about these services is also evolving. Developing tangible images to illustrate for example survey design or data science that don’t involve two people sitting behind a computer will be a challenge. 

It’s a complex idea and we are just starting to work out how to do this, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to show off all our products and services in a way that makes you aspire to work with them?

Linda Leunissen is our art director, based in London. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.