Images Are Powerful Symbols but Not Communicators

At the Visual Ideology site, you can take a visual political test that suggests which images portray political ideas the strongest.

Be prepared to be confused.

The “test” is rather frustrating, and I gave up, clicking through images without thinking because I did not know what I was supposed to do [possibly this is part of the test] just so I could get through the end.

What was most confusing is that there were no instructions. In my mind, this was a good example of something crucial we have to understand about images:

Images are powerful symbols that work on our souls, but images alone are incapable of communicating what we want people to do.

With a simple task we need at least a little coaxing. On the other hand, on a more complex task we need more coaxing. Otherwise we are asking people to interpret images on their own, which can be dangerous [read: they leave the website].

And whether visitors read all of the copy or not is not the point–it’s there if they get confused and need instruction.

Now, an elegant combination of copy and images was done well at the Interface Research survey.

Simple tasks with simple instructions.

Way back when David Olgivy proved repeatedly that long copy always outsold short copy with photo…but–and here’s why we need both copy and design–the right amount of compelling copy with the right photo doubled the previous results.

Political consultant Frank Lutz has made a fortune on a simple idea: it doesn’t matter what you want to tell the public–it’s about what they want to hear.

For a case in point, watch the video “Give Us What We Want” to see how one word increased public opinion from 50% to over 75%…

“Estate tax” versus “death tax.”

This simple change brought a bland, background issue screaming to the front of politics.

Just one word. By itself.

Just curious: Can you think of any images that have revolutionized an issue on its own merit?

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