The importance of photos in design

Technology has changed the modern world greatly in recent years and, in particular, it has changed the way we seek and receive information.

People simply have less time for the deep and thorough reading our parents might have done a generation ago. Most of us deal with many input sources — the web, email, twitter, SMS, and IM to name a few — so we naturally tend to favor any information that can be grasped in seconds, if not instantaneously.

Our brain is hard-wired to process the world in a visual form. It’s part of our ‘native OS’. For at least 40,000 years, humans have been transferring information from one person to another with the help of images, pictograms and graphic symbols.

Cave painting from Lascaux

Photo : goforchris

Text information is a ‘kid brother’ by comparison. The first evidence we have for written communication appears in Sumeria around 2600 BC — an evolutionary blink of the eye.

Small children start their learning process with the use of picture books and are much more likely to engage with a book that has pictures than text-heavy book. Even older children (and, many adults for that matter) often only become engaged with a book after they’ve watched the movie that was based on it.

Why Are Visuals So Engaging?

It’s generally agreed upon that people in don’t read on the Internet. A recent studyclaims that most users endorse and share posts after scanning only a few first lines, or even just a headline.

So, if your well-considered and wordy Facebook rant of yours gets a batch of likes, don’t assume your tribe actually read it. The endorsement may be more of a high five for effort — especially if you have a cool image there.

Another recent Twitter study shows that tweets with photos and images are more engaging for users than text-only tweets. The key reason for this trend is that images speak directly to our emotions. Images get fed straight into our subconscious, unlike text symbols which need to go through a ‘decoding step’.

Color, size and shape of a visual element evoke various feelings — anything from warmth to anger to joy — and can even push us to engage with a brand, share a post or buy a product.

Infographic courtesy of NeoMam Studios
Credit :NeoMam Studios

Another part of the explanation is that visual images appeal to both the left and right sides of our brains, engaging our logic and imagination at the same time. Actually, the growing success of infographics is a plain evidence of this idea.

What About Text?

It’s hard to imagine a world without text. It borders our roads, adorns our buildings, buses and books. A picture may well be worth a thousand words, but it’s likely a different thousand words for each of us. Text gives our ideas a precision that we can rarely approach with images alone.

Text also plays the central role in SEO, being the only data we can say with certainty that search engines understand perfectly.

Of course, this may seem like a situation of tail wagging the dog: surely it’s not us who should be serving search engines’ needs, but vice versa. The truth is, we need them as well and that won’t change anytime soon. The fact is – the internet is a big place, and few will find your beautiful photos or cute cat videos without the useful tags and keywords you add to them.

Web typography is the area where pure text and visualization overlaps.

Wise font choices improve text readability, but it also changes the voice that delivers your message. Set Rhianna’s lyric ‘I want you to stay‘ in Didot and it will seem like a heartfelt plea. Set the same text in Bank Gothic and it turns into a direct order.

Didot vs. Bank Gothic

Didot vs. Bank Gothic

Additionally, typography color and size increases its psychological and emotional impact. Thus, typographical elements attract visitors attention as images do, and carry all necessary information the text provides.

How to Wisely Use Text and Visuals in Web Design

Your website needs a proper balance between textual and visual content. Awesome images or videos without text will give your visitor little to no useful data. On the other hand, you may find it hard to engage users with large slabs of plain text.

Images are the main visual hook for websites that appears in logos, backgrounds, sliders and many more. They draw users into reading the text, illustrate the information provided in articles and blog posts and sometimes just entertain.

Images are a perfect way to guide the eye through the text information.

Jacob de Boer website
Jacob de Boer

One of today’s big trends — large background images — is used on many websites as an central organizing element. Among those who often get the biggest advantage from full-size background photos are:

  • Photographers – to show up their best portfolio photos to potential clients;
  • Decor and design studios – to showcase their greatest projects and products;
  • Travel agencies – to provide visual info about places they offered to visit.

Audrey Azoura Website
Audrey Azoura

Today we’re also commonly seeing videos used as a website background. They often serve a purpose of drawing attention to the website content, and usually offer a playful element for a user.

Bienville Capital Management
Bienville Capital Management

Infographics are one of the most engaging and in-demand element among website owners and Internet users that combines text and images.

As a format, they’ve evolved from often dry, technical diagrams to informative, powerful, and even fun story-telling devices. That help simplifying things for all types of users. Typically infographics allow users to grasp a complicated ideas and data with limited amounts of text and tons of catchy visuals.

Today even text may be presented in a form of a beautiful and creative imagery. With a great variety of cool fonts and typefaces you may release your imagination. Always keep an eye out for unique typography solutions that support your imagery.

Giant Panda Infographic
Infographic Credit :Lish-55

There is just one limitation to consider: user experience! Never use fancy or fussy typefaces for body text. Users won’t spend the effort to work through it, and your design will look overloaded. Save unconventional fonts for titles, subheadings and other design elements that are used for drawing users to the content — not deliver it.

When it comes to UX, the main thing to strive for is balance! Sometimes a design can begin too text-heavy, but swing too far towards towards imagery. Without both aspects harmoniously combined it won’t reach its goals.