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I think of graphics "usage" as how the chosen graphics for a project fit into the theme. Are they part of the active interface? Do they convey a strong message? Or just help set the tone.
Beyond that are the graphics part of an SEO scheme? Are they meant to be actual "attractors" and impart "stickiness?" Are they being used as sales techinques or for instructional purposes?
Useage implies action, and anytime we include graphics in a layout, their is a reason (...hopefully!). The graphics are being "used" because we wish to evoke a response.
One thing for certain... graphics sure are versatile! I bet all of us have plenty examples of each of the above (and many more reasons besides!).
Certainly, UI covers more than just graphics, but it seems to me that graphics are the easiest way to screw up UI.
Graphics should support the user's experience of the site--rather than overwhelm it.
Do we have a forum dedicated to UI? If not, maybe this would be a good place for it to be a home. :)