Friday, May 29, 2009

Signs: Visual vs Verbal

In a previous post I laid out different ways to communicate with signs, from fastest to slowest. Signs using images are faster to process than signs made with words. Said a different way, a good image can convey information more quickly than a set of written instructions. That might make intuitive sense, but here's a quick experiment to prove the case.

Take in this image. I have no idea what it would be a sign for. Maybe one that shows how awesome white pants and docksiders are. Anyway, look and count to ten, then turn your head away and start describing what you saw.

Did you draw the full picture with words in ten seconds? How about fifty seconds? Think about more details you saw. Can you keep talking about it for five minutes?

While the image isn't exactly a sign, it makes the point. What took ten seconds to soak in with your eyes took much longer to describe with your mouth. It also shows another thing about pictures: they display information densely. A thousand words, that's cake. Pictures can hold way more data than that, gobs of information that our brains process faster — and often more clearly — than words. When we untangle an image with language, the process is slow and prone to error.

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