Guiding Hand

Automatically cropping images.


If we semi-automate suggestions for better imagery based on design guidelines then can we help journalists improve the look of the BBC News website?

Our audiences use images to make better sense of the news. Our research shows that they use imagery to navigate our pages and decide which stories to read.

It’s essential then that the images we select help with this process, and that journalists follow best practice when doing this selection.

We drew on the expertise of Sue Vágó the head of design in BBC News. She ran training for journalists with advice such as:

  • Use close crops and bold imagery
  • Don’t centre all faces in the frame
  • Use text in images sparingly and always check it is legible.

We aimed to fold that guidance into an AI-powered prototype called guiding hand.

Guiding hand: how does it work?

So let’s say you are writing an article. You find a picture that you think might be a good fit to tell the story. You send the picture to guiding hand for a recommended crop.

The prototype finds faces automatically, using facial recognition. It auto-crops the largest face, and suggests it to journalists. Other faces can be selected and cropped.

Circles round three singers' faces and a rectangle round one singer's face.

Guiding hand finds faces

Rule of thirds for alignment

For each face the prototype offers three alignment options, to the right eye, to the left eye or centred on the face.

Tracey Ullman's face aligned to the left.

One option is to place the left eye one third along from the left.

Tracey Ullman's face aligned to the centre.

Guiding Hand also suggests cropping the picture so it is centred on the face.

Tracey Ullman aligned to the left.

Another option is to place the right eye one third along from the right.

Text identification and previews

Text in images is super difficult to read, especially on mobile. So we identify text and remind journalists to try to find alternate imagery. If the text is essential to the image, we offer a preview to show how it looks on mobile, and alongside a headline.

A screenshot of the guiding hand user interface for journalists on desktop

The guiding hand user interface includes a suggested targeted crop.

Next steps

We will continue testing this out with users and get their feedback. The prototype is stable and is already being used right now by our journalists around the world.


  • The prototype is being tested with teams in the newsroom. Initial feedback from journalists and the BBC News online design team is very positive.


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