A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

By Gianluca Businaro

“An image is worth a thousand words” represents a concept that embodies a world connected to how the human being communicates and receives information.

The Sense of Sight

To better understand, we need to talk about the sense organs. The sense organs are those organs (ie, eyes, ear, mouth, nose and skin) that allow people to interact on different levels with the world around them.

Sight is the sense responsible for the perception of visual input. It allows us to detect shapes, altitudes, distances and colors of what is observed. Binocular vision (both eyes working at the same time) is the one that allows the perception of the 3D objects.

From birth, the eyes become means of exploration that allow the child to assimilate new information and make it his/her own. But why are we so dependent on sight? What advantages does it offer over the other senses? One of the possible reasons is that it allows us to receive information that comes from both near and far. This offers a huge advantage in the “fight for survival” and not surprisingly, in the animal world, many predators are endowed with very acute eyesight that allows them to increase the chances of getting food. Moreover, 70% of the body’s sensory receptors are located in the eyes which affect the other senses.

The Benefits of Pictures

The pictures are the medium between theory and practice. Although somewhat abstract, it represents what the real world is in a figurative way and gives us an extra tool to put into practice what was initially only theory. Just think, for example, to assemble your new IKEA furniture following instructions where everything is written without the use of images. It would probably take double the time to finish.

Recent studies have shown that if a photo is added to text, it appears more believable, even if the photo does not in any way support the content of the text. The researchers of Victoria University in Wellington (New Zealand) tested this by publishing news announcing the death of a famous person. They realized that if the text was accompanied by a photo of the celebrity in question, subjects perceived the message as more credible. The photo, however, showed the celebrity still alive, and therefore, it did not provide any elements that could verify if the text was true or false. Information, even regarding very specialized topics, such as neuroscientific research, can be made more credible by the presence of pictures.

Pictures and Marketing

The human brain characteristic of remembering the perceived image over time is widely used in marketing to stimulate the spontaneous memory of advertisements or products. Images play a very important role; they are the means to attract attention and to communicate a thought, an action, an instruction or an emotion in a very short period of time. The images give immediacy of receiving input.

Among other things, we live in an era where we spend a lot of our time in front of screens. From these screens, we receive an enormous amount of information every day. This information, to be effective, must communicate a message in a very short period of time that is based on a very low threshold of the user’s attention. To attract the attention of a user, you have about three seconds. With images, we have the ability to communicate quickly, and above all, to attract more attention.

Obviously, an image does not have to be anonymous to be effective. We must try to amaze or intrigue the user by focusing on those aspects that attract attention. Among these, one of the most important is to make the user feel an emotion or recall a memory guided by the figure he/she is looking at. The perfect example we can use is with food. Is there a difference in how one feels when observing a beautiful photo of a pizza versus just reading the list of ingredients? With the visual image of the pizza, one can see what he/she could eat and thus would be curiously stimulated to try it.

Pictures and User Experience

In today’s design and especially in the user experience, pictures take on a very important relevance. This depends on the need to make graphical interfaces simpler and more intuitive.

The pictures start to work, assisting and collaborating to make everything cleaner. Just think of the increasingly present use of icons in various apps, software or websites. They allow you to communicate a very specific action without the use of text.

From a technical point of view, images offer a universal understanding of the actions to be carried out. In fact, through the graphical representation of a symbol, we do not need to translate a command into other languages. Let’s take as an example the “Add to Cart” CTA (Call To Action). Replacing the written part with a shopping cart icon, we use an international language made by non-verbal communication (55% of the communicative message is derived from non-verbal language). However, it must be specified that certain symbols, before becoming known by everyone, need to be tested and internalized by the user.

Another advantage that figurative images offer is the space they can occupy. In an era where we have become accustomed to using very small screens such as our smartphones, we need to give a lot of information in small spaces. Through the use of symbols we can save space by making an interface clean, simple and functional.


In conclusion, we could summarize everything in a few key points:

  • Pictures are imprinted in the mind and are immediately recognizable
  • Pictures attract more than written text
  • Pictures arouse emotions by creating a real contact with the viewer
  • Pictures express a concept directly

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