Aside from shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre (illegal and not recommended), visuals trump words when it comes to quick, clear communication.
In fact, “visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, graphics quickly affect our emotions, and our emotions greatly affect our decision-making,” according to Mike Parkinson in The Power of Visual Communication. In addition, the brain deciphers image elements simultaneously, while language is decoded in a linear, sequential manner that takes longer to process. Plus research by Edgar Dale shows the retention rate of visual information is double the retention rate for reading.
In short, images allow a viewer to quickly absorb large amounts of information while also leaving a longer-lasting impression.
Implication? As we communicate via a presentation, a proposal, a website or any other means, we need to make sure the visuals we use compliment and reinforce the messages we want to convey. Probably the most critical place for this to occur is on the Web.
It takes roughly 50 milliseconds for people to form an opinion about a website and determine whether they’ll stay and read the content or leave. A site’s graphic appeal, followed closely by its navigation, has the highest influence on people’s first impressions of websites.
In that 50 milliseconds, viewers also assess how trustworthy the site is. The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab lists visual design as a key way to boost a website’s credibility. In the lab’s research, just over 46 percent of research participants said that a website’s “design look” was the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of the site. This in turn determines whether the viewer will go further into the site to consume all the content and money-generating features.
Moral of the story? Don’t skimp on investing in visuals — Web or otherwise — and make sure to trust your designer’s expertise.