Not every picture is worth a thousand words

I stumbled across a post on ReadWrite hack, titled Usability Lessons from a First Time Computer User. Summing a usability test that was part of Firefox’s development process, the writer comes up with some interesting insight and a couple of worthwhile reminders.

Here’s my take-aways:

1. don’t assume people will use a communication tool for the same purposes as you (excellent example of the user who wanted e-mail to get discounts from his bakery as opposed to using it for cheap, nearly instantaneous communication with friends, co-workers and relatives) – which to me is a reminder of two tenets that I hold fundamental in marketing:

– Don’t use yourself as a standard or benchmark

– Question your assumptions

2. Symbols are powerful inasmuch as they are shared (the computer-illiterate user did not understand the icons that are so prevalent in the online world). This is a coda to our beloved “a picture is worth a thousand words”. What the example is reminding me is that visual impact, arresting and attracting attention, or simply aesthetic pleasure are not equal and substitutable for communicating a message.  In order to be worth a thousand words, a picture must have clearly identifiable  elements, with visual symbols that evoke a common enough reference. Normally, visuals show things and create emotion, because of the difficulty in accessing a shared reference. If you want to express an idea and you use visual cues (such as the home button on site navigation), you’d better make sure that you’ve evaluated the pros and cons and that what you see as a shortcut doesn’t end up confusing people and making it harder for them to access / use your services.


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