We’ve all heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
When it comes to website content, pictures are powerful allies, if you know how to manage them. People are drawn to visual content and take action based on its subtle cues faster than any other medium.
You felt the message, right? Mom. Accomplishment. Ceremony. Joy. Pride. No words were needed. The picture tells the story.
We live in an age of visual culture. Images surround us everywhere. Thick text has become white noise. Pictures are what guide us through ideas. Researchers have discovered that infants recognize faces long before they recognize other objects. In adults, viewing faces lights up the area of the brain devoted to higher level processing.
As web content managers tasked with communicating important information, it’s important to understand the psychology of imagery, as well as how to select and prepare images for web.
When viewers see a picture, especially a picture featuring people, they can imagine doing that activity or using that product. They move themselves one step further along in the process of taking action. Can you imagine yourself graduating from college, like the young mom in the picture? I can!
We also know that most people who land on a web page will decide in 5 to 10 seconds whether they want to stay or leave. If you can’t capture their attention, they’re gone. How can you keep them longer?
Consider featuring a relevant, beautiful, and well-composed picture, in a prime location, that will visually enhance the message your web page is intended to convey. Not just any old picture. A picture that tells the story better than the words on your page.
What exactly does relevant, beautiful, well composed, and in a “prime location” mean?
Ever consider buying an item on Amazon without seeing a picture of it? Didn’t think so. Even the design on a book cover can convince us to buy it. Relevance means the image tells a story designed to encourage an emotion and/or an action in the mind of the viewer.
Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen says people pay close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information but ignore fluffy pictures used to jazz up web pages. One way to determine if your image is relevant is to analyze whether it creates a relational association between the viewer and the image.
Using our picture of a happy mom graduating from college, on a page containing instructions on how to earn a degree or certificate, creates a relational association between action (follow these steps) and outcome (pride and joy on graduating). It’s the same subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) psychology used by marketers. You see a picture of a product and imagine yourself using it.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, thus the meaning of beautiful can be pretty ambiguous. Artists are well schooled in the basic elements that define powerful images. In terms of web content, we can consider beautiful to mean it tells the story. It can’t tell the story if it doesn’t contain basic artistic elements:
- Line and Shape – the outline and substance of the major shapes within your image. Are they well defined?
- Form – a sense of three-dimensional space. Is your image flat? Are there defining shadows and depth?
- Value – contrasts of light and dark within the image space. Is there an obvious light source or sense of “air”?
- Color – variations of hue, value, and intensity. Are your colors varied and bright with sufficient low intensity space within the image?
- Texture – do things look as if they might feel if touched? Soft? Rough? Smooth? Wet?
Images for web are downsized and smaller in size, so it’s important to make sure the elements in the image don’t get lost.
In Part 2 of this blog post, I’ll cover what it means for a picture to be well composed and in a prime location. So, stay tuned!
About the Blogger
Marie Wise, APR, is Lower Columbia College’s Web Marketing & Communications Coordinator. With 15+ years of marketing and public relations experience in the local community, she is the college’s strongest advocate for maximizing the potential of the website. Recently, she began training and supporting the college’s group of web editors, who continue to be amazed at the efficiencies provided by OU Campus. When she’s not working, she can be found painting in her home studio overlooking the scenic Columbia River, taking walks with her golden retriever, or reading art history fiction on her eReader!