The “Visual Preference Heuristic”: The Influence of Visual versus The Written Word
The Visual Preference Heuristic Principle Makes Website Information More Accessible & Easy to Comprehend. Here’s How To Use Visuals On Websites
Websites are full of information and it’s easy to invoke mental overload, especially in the early stages of a visit or when choices are being made. The use of the visual preference heuristic is one way around this problem.
When words tend to merge together and it takes a lot of focus and concentration to see, comprehend and make choices. Therefore we need to make it as easy as possible for visitors to comprehend the offer and select what they want or need.
Using images is the obvious way as was determined by Townsend and Kahn in 2014 in The “Visual Preference Heuristic”: The Influence of Visual versus Verbal Depiction and is a basic Web Psychology tactic
When appropriate imagery is used the visitor is able to comprehend it much quicker and finds it easier to understand the options offered and how to make a choice.
Wording can be added to ensure clarity and for SEO reasons.
More Visual Preference Heuristic Examples
Imagine you are a clothing retailer.
On your website you might sell dresses, skirts, blouses and jeans.
So do you use words or images to tell your visitors what you offer? Or should you combine the two as we did with the Knife, fork and Spoon image?
And are the images representative of what you sell. Is that beautiful red dress the sort of thing you sell or do you need a more conservative image?
Clearly there are still decisions to be made. But the visual image based communications is much quicker for us to comprehend and to excite the visitor.
Now browse the dresses that John Lewis sell. Do they make the choice much easier than a series of descriptive words? Is an image worth a thousand words?
Using The Visual Bias Heuristic In the Education Sector
Now imagine you are a college and want to show the choice of courses you offer? Can you do so visually?
What works best for you? How do you think students might react to the options below?
The images of dresses, blouses etc were relatively easy to understand but are the ones above as easy? For example, what would you expect to see in a business image? And what about construction, engineering, painting and healthcare? Finding the right imagery is sometimes challenging. But when you get it right it can work extremely well. Sometimes cartoon or graphic images work better than photographs.
However, the work of Townsend and Kahn is valid for many websites and needs to be given serious consideration. Getting it right can significantly boost website results. and the results can be measured on google Analytics as goals or other targets.
Using The Visual Preference Tactic In the Public Sector
Now let’s look at a council website where they have long lists of items for recycling. Lists are notoriously difficult online. People struggle to comprehend them and quickly glaze over.
So we need to use tactics that make them easier to understand.
For example the list below starts with egg boxes. But there are two occurrences, card and plastic. So the simple thing to do is merge them as Egg Boxes, plastic and card.
Even better is to use a photo or graphic that depicts egg boxes. I’s quickly added on in my rendition of the list further down the page.
And I’ve added an image for engine oil, envelopes and elastic bands.
At this stage I have to say my images were quickly acquired online and aren’t perfect. But if a bit more time was spent on it then the improvement would be significant.
I’ve also added a colour block to represent the bin the item should be put in. Colour alone isnt going to work though as we have green bins and green sacks. But if a graphic of them were available then it would be easy to make the list far more obvious.
At the end of the day the Visual Preference Heuristic is key to good communications in many cases.