Visitors’ Brains Are Wired to Respond to Visuals

Website Visitors' Brains Are Wired to Respond to Visuals

In our web design and development process, we pay a lot of attention to effectively blending copy and visual elements, including images, colors, and layout. While most people are familiar with how powerful the right (or wrong) words can be in marketing and branding, not everyone realizes how much sway visual elements have.

The human brain is biologically wired to instantaneously notice, evaluate, and draw conclusions from visual stimuli. It’s an essential survival skill, and one that carries over into how we perceive everything around us, including websites. 

Here’s a quick look at some ways the human brain is fundamentally designed to pay special attention to certain visual information:

Brains Are Built for Sight 

With all the many body parts, processes, and functions the human brain controls, an impressive 20% of the organ is devoted to seeing and processing visual information. 

We Start Seeing Immediately 

Think of all the things you can do that a newborn can’t. There are a lot, but seeing isn’t one of them. Visuals are so entwined with human learning, infants use them from the start, picking up on what to pay attention to and quickly forming strong associations between objects and what they represent. 

We Read Visuals Quickly 

Compare the time it takes to read a paragraph describing a chair to the time it takes to look at a chair. An image conveys a great deal of information instantly. Studies show it takes 150 milliseconds to process an image and an additional 100 milliseconds to attach meaning to it, while it takes at least twice as long to process and ascribe meaning to one word. 

Color Gets Our Attention 

In the early days—the really early days—colors were used to identify good food and water. Vibrant, clean blues and greens are inherently appealing, while browns and yellows are associated with rotting and dirtiness. It’s such an involved field, many books explore the psychology of colors in marketing. 

Movement Also Grabs Attention 

Of the two types of visual processing cells in your eyes (rods and cones), the rods detect movement. They’re good at noticing even slight motions in the periphery, which is useful for avoiding danger heading towards us. Motion triggers instant alertness. 

People Respond to Faces 

Family faces are one of the first things infants learn to recognize. Also, our brains are wired to find baby faces cute (even in animals) and to feel compelled to protect them. We have dedicated cells for facial recognition, and we’re also built to read the emotion and intent on faces we see. 

People Reflect Emotion 

As we read emotions in the faces we encounter, it has significant effects on our own emotions. When confronted with anger, our defenses go up; when we see sadness, we empathize and become sad; when we see laughing, happy faces, it improves our mood. 

Images Boost Retention 

Because learning is such a visual process, our brains (which are constantly sorting through a never-ending bombardment of stimuli) pay extra attention to images. People retain about 10% of something new they learn after several days, but an accompanying image raises retention to 65%. 

Images Simplify Things 

Because our brains are always processing and deciding what to keep and what to discard, they appreciate simplicity. A single image can represent complex or extensive ideas, and that’s very useful. It’s a big part of why a great logo is such a powerful branding tool. 

Stories Are Told Most Effectively With Words and Visuals 

As you can see—no pun intended—we take a lot away from what we take in visually. Our sight and deciphering of visual stimuli is a fundamental, instantaneous, powerful process that affects our perception of the environment, our emotions, and our planning. 

That’s why the right images, colors, and layout, when combined with compelling copy, make web design a potent sales and branding tool. 

Read more about the importance of quickly winning over site visitors, an art and science that requires smart visual choices.

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