Where Science Meets Muse

The Power of Words Over Images – A Lesson From a Bad Design

Posted by Plish on October 3, 2010

I know it’s easier to criticize bad design than to compliment good design but sometimes a bad design screams for recognition. 

The other day I needed some color copies for a lunch meeting so I got up early, and with bleary eyes, trekked over to Kinko’s.  The copy was on the light side and I needed to darken it up.  I was getting frustrated because I kept adjusting the image quality and my copies weren’t getting any darker. Take a few seconds to look at the image of the touchscreen below and see if you can see what the problem was.

Yup, it’s the Lighten/Darken terminology on the screen.  The problem is that the word ‘lighten’ corresponds with darker bands and ‘darken’ with lighter bands.   Sure if I only looked at the bands I would have realized that moving the slider towards the ‘darken’ side would actually make the copy lighter but I didn’t.  It was early, I was in a hurry and I trusted the words on the screen to describe exactly what hitting the arrows would do: lighten and darken.  I kept hitting the arrow on the right and my copies weren’t getting any darker. I seriously thought there was a bug in the software.

Words are important.  Eye-tracking studies of websites showed that people go to text first then to images.  When looking for instructions on a touchscreen, words are used to guide users to the section of the screen where programming changes can be made.  But, in this case, the words confused the matter.

The bottom line is, don’t underestimate the power of words – after all, you’ve read them in spite of the arrow pointing up at the top of this entry.


One Response to “The Power of Words Over Images – A Lesson From a Bad Design”

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