Web graphics can reduce readership

Citing classic research, designer argues: dial down online imagery

Last week we asked if graphic designers were ruining the web, in response to a provocative John Naughton article that argued designers are largely to blame for websites becoming increasingly bloated. Responses were mixed but balanced; designer Daniel Howells argued that design is "making the web richer", but Adaptive Web Design author Aaron Gustafson recognised a "lack of web professionalism" in the industry, with too many designers not appreciating the ramifications of their decisions. "This isn't print and it's not television – bandwidth is a factor," he said.

On KISSmetrics, copywriter and web designer D Bnonn Tennant has written an article that seems to align itself with a less-is-more line of thinking. While it doesn't quite go so far as to advocate Naughton's preference for an almost text-only approach, it states that images can reduce readership and conversions.

The assumption by most designers opposes this viewpoint. As Tennant says, people think sites with images look great, grab the attention, impress prospects, promote trust and, ultimately, increase sales. But citing research commissioned by 'advertising legend' David Ogilvy, Tennant found that images can reduce readership: "They catch people's attention. But without some very specific conditions in place, that attention doesn't translate into people reading the body copy or coughing up cash."

Recommendations Tennant makes, based on Ogilvy's findings, include: placing images above headlines, which are then read by 10 per cent more people; using captions, which are read anything up to three times more than body copy and can draw readers back into the main text; not breaking the left margin, because it interrupts the 'eyepath'; and working only with images that have story appeal and that demonstrate something from within the copy. If you're not meeting all these goals, Tennant argues it's "time to start testing, measuring and, perhaps, culling".