A reader asks how to conduct user experience design for different types of end-users:
"Usually, visitors to a website might either be a verbal or a visual learner. How do we design websites and GUI products keeping in mind the requirements of verbal and visual learners?"
Answer: There has been quite a bit of research on the "visualizer-verbalizer" question since the mid-1970s. It's mostly from the instructional design field where "individual differences" among students might affect learning.
In theory, instruction should accommodate "cognitive styles" for people who do better with either visual instruction or verbal instruction. Different strokes for different folks.
First, I'll give you the quick answer regarding your target customers. Then I'll show you a pitfall to avoid with your team. And last, I'll give you a new approach to writing tag lines for your site.
All this from one short question!
So, here's the quick answer: Most people (about 70%) express a liking for both visual and verbal learning â their cognitive style seeks out both.
So, design for both visual and verbal end-users.
Too easy, huh?
But, wait; there are extremes of each dimension. Visualizers might represent 15% of the general population and verbalizers another 15%. Who are these people? When should you slant your web site to meet their needs?
Well, do lawyers differ from, say, sculptors when it comes to cognitive style or "learning preference"?
Research questionnaires show that, yes, lawyers like to work with words more than a lot of other people. (Surprise!)
Occupational destiny reflects what we like to do â and those preferences reflect our "cognitive style" for communication and learning.
Likewise, the answers given by sculptors show they prefer visual communication and visual instruction more than a lot of other people.
So â if your product or service web site aims at a very particular customers, such as selling art supplies to sculptors and visual artists, then what?
Well, be smart and avoid thick paragraphs of text as a substitute for pictures of art products. (I'm expressing the obvious, for pedagogical impact... ;)
On the other hand, do artists avoid reading altogether? No way. Text carries important information. So, include text where needed to clarify.
So, we get the point. For the extremes of visualizers and verbalizers, serve the food they like. You'll get a bunch more attaboy, plus payoffs from return visits.
Go with the flow when a specific verbal or visual "cognitive style" goes with the occupational territory. Otherwise, provide a buffet of visual and verbal experiences that capture interest and provide value.
See my November, 2010 HFI Design Newsletter that shows that good website visuals are your best tool for grabbing customer attention.
Next, we cover additional important stuff. Namely, what about your design team? Do you have a visualizer-verbalizer standoff in the making?
We spoke about "extremes" among your target customers, referring to occupational destiny. Shouldn't that apply to your graphics providers (maybe you!)?
And what about those other folks on your team? Do you have a content person, product manager, programmer, and a copy writer?
Remember, some of these team members earn their living because they do work that matches their "cognitive style". They do great things because they know the intricacies of visuals or words and how to make them effective. Could there be "differences of opinion" because of those differences in cognitive style?
A 2004 study by Andrew Mendelson, a media researcher at Temple University in Philadelphia, examined how "visualizer" scores of undergraduate participants correlated with recall of 36 news photographs viewed earlier in the session.
He wondered if high scorers would recall more photos than people with lower visualizer scores.
And the answer was "yes". The visualizer score correlated with the number of photos they recalled. (On average, participants recalled 20 out of the 36 photos. But good visualizers recalled more and lousy visualizers recalled fewer.)
High visualizers also spent more time looking at the photos than low visualizers.
Mendelson gives his conclusions.
"...high visualizes are better able to see images as unified wholes and see relationships between elements in the photographs. This ability is similar to the notion of chunking, the process that allows chess experts to see organization and meaningful relationships on a chessboard...and remember patterns of moves effectively...
High visualizers are efficiently able to store more information about each news photograph, which may lead to a more unique memory trace facilitating recall...
I conclude that high visual learners may have a better ability to organize visual information efficiently and meaningfully." (p. 14)
What does this mean for your team? It means that your high visualizers have quite a different experience with pictures than those with less interest in visuals. Those differences can be a strength as well as a source of disagreement.
Strength comes from appreciation of visualization expertise. See my Dec, 2009 Newslettter "User Experience" Meets "Beauty is Truth, Truth is Beauty" for the benefits of great graphic support.
Disagreement comes from misplaced emphasis on visuals when other communication tools might be better. For example, how often have you had to advocate buttons with labels in response to a push for a graphic icon (with obscure meaning)?
Further sources of conflict can arise when visuals carry too much of your message content. Mendelson reports how pictures can support text, but cannot carry the whole message. Do you have this high visualizer vs. low visualizer debate within your team?
"When photos are presented alone, the story is created completely from the interaction of the image and stored information in the viewer's long-term memory. A person who learns best visually may have a more complex store of visual stories that provide context for what they are seeing." (p. 15)
A strong visualizer may suggest just using an image or photo to carry the whole story. For them, it's "obvious". To others it's debatable. Our methods suggest usability testing of these debatably "obvious" conclusions.
Using the precautionary principle (e.g., "better safe than sorry"), design teams should avoid one-sided emphasis on either visuals or textual approaches. Avoid lopsided outcomes motivated by one or two forceful personalities (or charisma!). Be practical. Be "average" in visual or verbal advocacy.
What else can we do to aid communication with Web customers who vary in their visual and verbal cognitive styles?
The notion of a "tag line" carries connotation of branding and marketing. For example, the popular TV and movie series of Star Trek has the tagline "To boldly go where no man has gone before".
Research over the last 3 decades in the area of "metaphor" teaches us a lot about the melding of visual with verbal.
In a 2009 report by George Lakoff from the University of California in Berkeley, we learn that the best metaphors are easily understood (and learned) because they utilize our tendency to visualize and "live" the words in the metaphor.
Take, for example, the metaphor "Love is a Journey". Why do we understand this, even though at the literal level it doesn't represent anything we normally see?
(A "journey" literally takes you from one physical location to another physical location. In contrast, "love" is literally a subjective state of mind â and hormones.)
Lakoff points out that metaphors work because they build on concepts we learn early in life. Our brain accepts the concepts uncritically and combines them with other basic concepts. Usually, these are physical and easily visualized. (What is a "journey"? It's a movement, from one physical place to another physical place.)
Two concepts that are "basic" can be combined into a third with little effort because the brain comprehends by internally mimicking the basic concepts when it hears them.
Therefore, "love" (the comfort of being held by mother or loved one) can be rehearsed at the same time that "journey" (movement to destination) is also rehearsed by the brain.
Here is Lakoff's "mapping" of the commonplace knowledge that supports the metaphor. Each sentence supports an emotionally meaningful basic concept and connects us to the next concept.
(The resulting motivational impact has similarities to HFI's PET approach to designing user experience. PET= Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust.)
We can diagram the brain-linked automatic associations like this:
Relationship âș Container âș Vehicle âș
Closeness âș Intimacy âș Lovers âș (in vehicle) âș
Travelers âș Journey
Our experience at the conscious level is the phrase "Love is a Journey".
But the neural foundations of metaphor, as described by Lakoff, suggests that the unconscious but more real experience is the visual and tactical outcome of Relationship âș Container âș Vehicle âș Closeness âș Intimacy âș Lovers âș (in vehicle) âș Travelers âș Journey.
For purposes of our visualizer-verbalizer Web customer, we conclude that the best tag lines reflect great metaphors.
And great metaphors reflect components that are literately "built in" to our brain circuits.
Let's look at Star Trek's tag line "To boldly go where no man has gone before".
This brief analysis shows how the nervous system reacts spontaneously to the buzz words we have been trained to respect and act upon.
In a sense this use of verbal text as a tag line illustrates the goal of "visualization".
It's also key to making words "short and sweet". Recall Shakespeare's Hamlet in which Polonius advises his son before a trip: "Brevity is the soul of wit"
The path to verbal brevity is visualization. (Ah, a verbalized visualization.)
In that sense, a good tag line entertains and delights us all.
So, have we answered our readers question?
"Usually, visitors to a website might either be a verbal or a visual learner. How do we design websites and GUI products keeping in mind the requirements of verbal and visual learners?"
Now we can give our new and best answer: Whether you're a visualizer, verbalizer, or just an ordinary person, you can jump on the bandwagon of a well-built metaphor.
Play tag, anyone?
Was that metaphor sufficiently touching?
Send us another question right now!
George Lakoff (2009). The Neural Theory of Metaphor. An earlier version appeared in: R. Gibbs, 2008, The Metaphor Handbook, Cambridge University Press.
Andrew L. Mendelson (2004). For Whom is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Effects of the Visualizing Cognitive Style and Attention on Processing of News Photos. Journal of Visual Literacy, 24 (1) 1-22
Very interesting article. Since I am just starting with an online business for losing weight, I could have used a little bit more visual, say in terms of diagrams. Then again I am new to the whole thing. I may have to ponder a little bit. Thank you.
Sign up to get our Newsletter delivered straight to your inbox
HFI may use âcookiesâ or âweb beaconsâ to track how Users use the Website. A cookie is a piece of software that a web server can store on Usersâ PCs and use to identify Users should they visit the Website again. Users may adjust their web browser software if they do not wish to accept cookies. To withdraw your consent after accepting a cookie, delete the cookie from your computer.
HFI believes that every User should know how it utilizes the information collected from Users. The Website is not directed at children under 13 years of age, and HFI does not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from children under 13 years of age online. Please note that the Website may contain links to other websites. These linked sites may not be operated or controlled by HFI. HFI is not responsible for the privacy practices of these or any other websites, and you access these websites entirely at your own risk. HFI recommends that you review the privacy practices of any other websites that you choose to visit.
HFI is based, and this website is hosted, in the United States of America. If User is from the European Union or other regions of the world with laws governing data collection and use that may differ from U.S. law and User is registering an account on the Website, visiting the Website, purchasing products or services from HFI or the Website, or otherwise using the Website, please note that any personally identifiable information that User provides to HFI will be transferred to the United States. Any such personally identifiable information provided will be processed and stored in the United States by HFI or a service provider acting on its behalf. By providing your personally identifiable information, User hereby specifically and expressly consents to such transfer and processing and the uses and disclosures set forth herein.
In the course of its business, HFI may perform expert reviews, usability testing, and other consulting work where personal privacy is a concern. HFI believes in the importance of protecting personal information, and may use measures to provide this protection, including, but not limited to, using consent forms for participants or âdummyâ test data.
HFI may use personally identifiable information collected through the Website for the specific purposes for which the information was collected, to process purchases and sales of products or services offered via the Website if any, to contact Users regarding products and services offered by HFI, its parent, subsidiary and other related companies in order to otherwise to enhance Usersâ experience with HFI. HFI may also use information collected through the Website for research regarding the effectiveness of the Website and the business planning, marketing, advertising and sales efforts of HFI. HFI does not sell any User information under any circumstances.
HFI may disclose personally identifiable information collected from Users to its parent, subsidiary and other related companies to use the information for the purposes outlined above, as necessary to provide the services offered by HFI and to provide the Website itself, and for the specific purposes for which the information was collected. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information at the request of law enforcement or governmental agencies or in response to subpoenas, court orders or other legal process, to establish, protect or exercise HFIâs legal or other rights or to defend against a legal claim or as otherwise required or allowed by law. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information in order to protect the rights, property or safety of a User or any other person. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information to investigate or prevent a violation by User of any contractual or other relationship with HFI or the perpetration of any illegal or harmful activity. HFI may also disclose aggregate, anonymous data based on information collected from Users to investors and potential partners. Finally, HFI may disclose or transfer personally identifiable information collected from Users in connection with or in contemplation of a sale of its assets or business or a merger, consolidation or other reorganization of its business.
If a User includes such Userâs personally identifiable information as part of the User posting to the Website, such information may be made available to any parties using the Website. HFI does not edit or otherwise remove such information from User information before it is posted on the Website. If a User does not wish to have such Userâs personally identifiable information made available in this manner, such User must remove any such information before posting. HFI is not liable for any damages caused or incurred due to personally identifiable information made available in the foregoing manners. For example, a User posts on an HFI-administered forum would be considered Personal Information as provided by User and subject to the terms of this section.
Information about Users that is maintained on HFIâs systems or those of its service providers is protected using industry standard security measures. However, no security measures are perfect or impenetrable, and HFI cannot guarantee that the information submitted to, maintained on or transmitted from its systems will be completely secure. HFI is not responsible for the circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures relating to the Website by any Users or third parties.
Human Factors International, Inc.
PO Box 2020
1680 highway 1, STE 3600
Fairfield IA 52556
HFI reserves the right to cancel any course up to 14 (fourteen) days prior to the first day of the course. Registrants will be promptly notified and will receive a full refund or be transferred to the equivalent class of their choice within a 12-month period. HFI is not responsible for travel expenses or any costs that may be incurred as a result of cancellations.
$100 processing fee if cancelling within two weeks of course start date.
4 Pack + Exam registration: Rs. 10,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (4 Pack-CUA/CXA) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.
Individual Modules: Rs. 3,000 per participant âper moduleâ processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (any Individual HFI course) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.
Exam: Rs. 3,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the pre agreed CUA/CXA exam date before three weeks from the examination date. No refund or carry forward of the exam fees if requesting/cancelling or transferring the CUA/CXA exam within three weeks before the examination date.
There will be no audio or video recording allowed in class. Students who have any disability that might affect their performance in this class are encouraged to speak with the instructor at the beginning of the class.
The course and training materials and all other handouts provided by HFI during the course are published, copyrighted works proprietary and owned exclusively by HFI. The course participant does not acquire title nor ownership rights in any of these materials. Further the course participant agrees not to reproduce, modify, and/or convert to electronic format (i.e., softcopy) any of the materials received from or provided by HFI. The materials provided in the class are for the sole use of the class participant. HFI does not provide the materials in electronic format to the participants in public or onsite courses.