A Picture Tells a Million Words
How Much is a Dynamic Picture Worth?
The old saying goes “a picture tells a thousand words” — but today that saying may actually be an understatement. Consuming information through images, rather than the written word, has become increasingly popular. With the rise of the Internet, our demand for visual information has increased exponentially, but static pictures in a world filled with dynamic, real-time information are falling behind fast. Further, the latest technologies for browsing from desktops to mobile and even entertainment devices have ushered in a dramatic leap forward in digital interactivity.
Take some of today’s most visited sites from Fortune 500 companies. Over the past 10 years, many of these sites have evolved from mere hyperlinked brochures into hubs of dynamic content providing real-time information for customers, partners and suppliers. From social media feeds and blogs to store locators and order tracking, today’s corporate websites provide timely, dynamically driven data, but significantly under-utilize the power of visuals to bring critical information to users in the most readily consumable format.
Imagine an Internet filled with images that can change as data changes, respond to user input or automatically detect a user’s goals and adapt to their specific needs. Today’s prevailing images are usually static pictures illustrating information at one point in time — a one-size-fits-all image that’s identical for every user. Dynamic pictures have the power to depict information so users interact with data while static pictures merely describe it.
What is a Dynamic Picture…
…and why is it so great? Simply put, a dynamic picture is an image that can change based upon either data or user inputs. The most common examples of dynamic pictures are stock charts found on sites like Yahoo! Finance or the driving directions we get from Google Maps. These images are data driven and can be manipulated by users to present information tailored to their specific needs.
Google Maps allows users to search a map image, zoom, pan, turn on and off data and even display real-time events like traffic.
The homepage of TED.com allows users to dynamically alter the visual content on the page by selecting from several filters on the left and then scaling them by relevancy.
While dynamic images like these are leveraged by millions of users everyday, their utility has not been picked up by most businesses to be successfully deployed in other areas. Imagine having the power to dynamically present a picture based on a user’s specific needs, enabling them to engage with content visually and quickly understand the information being communicated.
Dynamic images can replace traditional interfaces by allowing the content to come forward and let the user interact with it directly making the interface superfluous. Edward Tufte, the godfather of information design, called menus, radio buttons, check boxes and other elements of the interface “administrative debris” because they are a necessary consequence of interactivity yet lead to a separation between the user and the information with which they are trying to interact. For example, why use this standard interface to select flights when you could easily use a map that allows you to pan, zoom and touch the cities you want to fly to and from?
Certainly a map that you can point to can more easily and quickly get you to the route you want then a series of awkward menus and pull-downs. The idea is to use a picture to reduce the friction a user experiences when interacting with information. The possibilities for data visualization are endless and as touch interfaces go beyond tablets into PCs, like the next update to MacOS X and Windows 7 are promising to deliver, interacting with visual data will become more commonplace and natural for users.
So What’s Next?
In a world of information overload, we all have limited time to communicate with our audience. If pictures can tell a thousand words, it stands to reason that the dynamic image’s time has come. At ThoughtMatrix, we predict an increased use of dynamic images online will lead to higher user engagement by providing a unique experience for each individual.