Images are a powerful part of Web design. Good images explain a concept, conjure a feeling, convey information, and enhance people’s overall experience on a site. Bad images waste space, are ignored by users, and, even worse, are confusing. In this chapter, we examine what specific attributes attract people or repel them from images on the Web.
There are basically four forms of media for communicating to users on the Web: text, graphics, moving images (such as animation and video), and sound. Graphics are probably the most powerful of these because people respond to them instantly and in a matter of just a few fixations.
There are some very creative, captivating images on the Web today—graphics that evoke emotion, graphics that relay a message far better and faster than words, and graphics that illustrate a process or instructions. People look at and respond positively to these graphics. But generic and pointless images are about as compelling as a garden slug. Our eyetracking research shows that these are even a bigger waste of time than we previously thought because people simply do not look at them.
It’s almost as though people have a finite bank of looks to give to Web pages. When they scan a page, they rapidly make decisions about what they are going to view. They are constantly calculating how many looks they have used and have left and whether it is worth allotting them to the image at hand. It’s a tough world on the Web, and users are downright miserly with their fixations.
Just how miserly? Depending on the context and types of images, people look at less than half of the images presented to them on average—only 42 percent. And in general, they look at those images for less than two-tenths of a second.
People ignore more images than they look at on the Web, and they look at images for just a fraction of a second.
What Does and Doesn’t Draw Attention to an Image
Images that people really look at vary greatly in style and quality.
We have found in our eyetracking research that people determine an image to be worth looking at during their first, peripheral glimpse of it. In general, they decide it is worthwhile if it seems substantive and of benefit to them.
The images people look at most have the following characteristics:
- Are high contrast and high quality (crisp and colorful)
- Are cropped, rather than overly reduced, when necessary to fit a small space
- Are not excessively detailed: easy to interpret, almost iconic
- Are highly related to the content on the page
- Possess magnetic features
Features that make images magnetic include the following:
- Smiling and approachable faces
- People looking at (or at least facing) the camera
- Sexual anatomy (and sexy bodies)
- Appetizing food
- Clear instructions or information
People ignore images that have the following characteristics:
- Are low contrast and low quality
- Are too busy for the space
- Look like advertisements
- Are not related to content on the page or only slightly related to it
- Are boring
- Include people or objects that are generic or obvious stock art
- Are cold, fake, or too polished