What Makes Web Images Attractive

More from the Nielsen/Norman Group's Usability Week in San Francisco. (Previous coverage) Yesterday Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne presented the results of their first use of eyetracking to evaluate Web design.

They offered one interesting and much-discussed observation: Task-oriented users really don't pay attention to images on Web pages.

Similar to Poynter's Eyetrack III results, and the results of an initial study done by my organization, the Digital Storytelling Effects Lab (DiSEL), NNG found that images seem to be most effective when a user is browsing or when images are directly related to the content's overall presentation.

Both Eyetrack III and the NNG study found that faces in images tend to attract users' focus. NNG mentioned to the dangers of using images as "an obstacle course." Images that appear unnecessary, at least peripherally, can be erroneously tuned out.

According to NNG, images that do NOT attract attention share these traits:

  • Generic/stock art
  • Off-putting, cold, fake, too polished or "set up"
  • Not related to content
  • Look like advertisements
  • Low contrast in terms of color -- not crisp

Meanwhile, images that DO get attention share these traits:

  • Related to page content
  • Clearly composed and appropriately cropped
  • Contain "approachable" people who are smiling, looking at the camera, not models
  • Show areas of personal/private anatomy (Men tended to fixate on these areas more than women -- really!)
  • Items a user may want to buy.
  • Laura Ruel

    Laura Ruel teaches multimedia journalism in the visual communication sequence at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Before coming to UNC in July of 2004, she was the inaugural executive director of the Edward W.


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