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February 04, 2015

An Image is Worth a Thousand Words

Thought by Amanda Konopko, Interactive Designer & Project Manager

The phrase “an image is worth a thousand words" couldn’t be more spot on when it comes to web design and recently it’s become a trend. Imagery has the power to portray the unspoken word and assist in telling stories, so it isn’t a coincidence that image-based websites have taken the internet by storm. Companies are putting their focus on imagery to help tell a narrative and eliminate the reliance and strain of reading.

This approach to design relates to a children’s storybook. Each page has a short amount of text and an illustration that gives additional life to the story. The imagery within the storybook not only illustrates the written words of each page, it expands upon them and often foreshadows what will come next. But why does this model work so well?

As children, before we can even read and write, we learn through “visual perception”, the act of deciphering images and visuals that surround us. As adults, this instinct persists and often makes images easier and faster to digest than a block of text. With this in mind, it becomes possible to get a point across without a lengthy detailed description. In particular, the Net Generation as an audience is highly keen to this approach of obtaining information. As discussed in the article, How Digital Technology Has Changed the Brain , “They don't necessarily read from left to right, or from beginning to end. They're more sensitive to visual icons than older people are, and they absorb more information when it's presented with visual images than when it's offered in straight text. This may help them be better scanners, a useful skill when you're confronted with masses of online information.”

Imagery can also be viewed as an emotional portal. It helps to set a specific mood or tone and make strong connections. As mentioned in the Forrester Report, Design Enjoyable Experiences Now, “Reimagine the scope of what drives an interaction. Consider how customers’ goals may be influenced by their approach to an interface or physical location. For example, in preparation for tax season, United Services Automobile Association (USAA) redesigned its home page anticipating that many of their customers would arrive at the site in a sour, stressed-out mood. The calm visual landscape, unambiguous content categories, and immediately accessible support tools prime users to know and feel that the site is there to help, not hinder.”

Websites that use this approach are often broken down into “panes” of information, similar to the pages within a storybook. Each “pane” addresses a small amount of information and often uses supporting imagery to tell the unwritten words and make emotional connections. Breaking information down into small chunks like this makes the information easily digestible and allows for a more targeted message and meaningful experience.

This type of storytelling can be seen on many websites today, including:

Each of these websites tells an effective story. The creator’s have put careful thought into each thread of narrative throughout the website and tailoring imagery to the intended message. They also put a large amount of focus on the imagery and keep the supporting text short and sweet where available.

Put this approach into action by first coming up with an overarching strategy (this is where the story will come from). Once the story is complete, captivating meaningful imagery is necessary, but where can this be found? There are many great paid stock imagery services out there, including:

If you are looking for free imagery, below is a list of several great free resources I have come across that have high quality photography:

If you cannot find stock imagery to suit your needs, you can always hire a photographer to help your vision come to life.

Images are a great way to help spark emotional connections and thread together a narrative. As image usage on the web has become a trend, countless sources have become available to help locate the perfect imagery to help you tell your story. Does your organization need help telling its story? Contact one of our design experts and let us help you get started.