Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

You’ve probably heard the saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words” but is this actually true? We decided to investigate...
Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

You’ve probably heard the saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words” but is this actually true? We decided to investigate!

Like all designers, we’re passionate about the effective use of imagery. We also enjoy creating visual elements such as these infographics we developed for our client, Lean Direction:

Lean Direction Brochure Infographic 2                    Lean Direction Brochure Infographic 1

It’s clear that we’ve inherited this love for all things visual from our ancestors. Numerous examples of prehistoric cave paintings can be found around the world, many of which are thought to date back over 30,000 years! Compare this to text which has only been around for a few thousand years and it’s easy to understand why our brains have developed an inherent preference for processing images over against copy.

Our research also unearthed these fascinating facts, figures and philosophies relating to text versus the power of pictures:

  • When reading we only spend around 20% of the time actually processing content – the other 80% is taken up with moving our eyes to read the text. This startling statistic has led to the development of enhanced reading methods such as Spritzing.
  • We humans are naturally lazy when it comes to reading – plodding through loads of text is hard work, right? This explains why a startling 92% of Google search users will click a link on the first page of search results and the No.1 position in Google gets 33% of search traffic.
  • Back in 1986, a study commissioned by 3M discovered that presenters who used visual aids were 43% more persuasive than those who didn’t. If you’re wondering how to nail that important sales pitch then there’s your answer!
  • Figures cited in various online articles claim that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual and that pictures are processed 60,000X faster than text. Whilst there appears to be a question mark over the reliability of this data one thing for sure is that we’re able to grasp visual information a lot more quickly than plain, unembellished text.
  • The internet has revolutionised the way that we publish and consume information by enabling us to combine text with other media such as images and videos. After all, an ecommerce website such as Amazon would be no good without product descriptions and pictures!

So is a picture really worth a thousand words? Whilst many words can be used to describe an image (entire books have been written about the Mona Lisa!), there’s little in the way of evidence to support this statement. Visuals are, however, a great way of filtering large amounts of data into a simplified, “at a glance” format, as in the example below showing an increase in coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef:

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef

Source: The Guardian, June 2016

Clearly pictures and words complement each other and are most effective when used together. As with a most things in life, a balanced approach is best.

In conclusion

Images can never fully replace text, or vice versa, due to the fact that different people process visual information in different ways. A picture is open to personal interpretation and therefore can be more ambiguous than words so if you need to clearly convey specific information, text may be a better option.

Needing some visual inspiration?

(there’s only a teeny bit of text to read!)
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