Wisdom.Applied Wednesday: The Web Gets Visual

If a pictures worth 1,000 words, what’s a website with 1,000 pictures worth? 1,000,000? 16, 000,000,000?

More image-based websites seem to be cropping up every day. Visual web content has been on the rise for years, and it’s exponentially changed the way everyone (from developers and designers to users and consumers) uses the Internet.

Proof of the growing visual web is everywhere on the Internet: Pinterest, the standard-bearer for the visual web, mimics a bulletin board of your favorite things and is currently growing at an exponential rate; services like Instagram, specifically designed as a visual form of Facebook, stand in their own rite; Tumblr, while similar to Pinterest, has applied curation to the blogging platform to create an immensely popular social network, particularly among teens.

Even MySpace and Google+ have tried to join in with their latest redesigns. And so has the government, just take a look at next.data.gov. We Heart It is a new service that uses this design philosophy, and the way SnapChat has taken over the way young people communicate indicates that picture-centric applications are slowly taking over other aspects of our lives.

But what makes Pinterest’s iconic grid of images so addictive to users right now? It’s likely a confluence of numerous influences. Back in the day, downloading images took ages, but now you can view a board full of pictures in virtually no time at all. Not only that, but with the proliferation of smartphones, everyone is capable of taking pictures at any given moment, and they can share them online easily. The recent rise in graphically-based memes and animated GIFs has certainly benefited from these advances and contributed to the rise of the visual web.

The trend may also have to do with how much time online we spend on our phones and the fact that small screens are a better fit for swiping through images than peering to decipher miniscule text. Surely the infinite scrolling capabilities of Pinterest draw users in as well. Or it could be simpler than any of these: people just like images more than text or video because they can be perceived almost instantly, giving you a constant stream of eye candy you can gulp down fast.

“Today, it’s so easy to get lost in the never ending scroll of the Visual Web,” said Emily Iammarino, art director at The San Jose Group.

Savvy marketers have caught on to the trend as well. The visual web marks an alignment between advertising and content, where the two can float together seamlessly. Brands have already taken advantage of this, as official product Pinterest posts can be incorporated into users’ feeds and provide quick access to an online POP. And this isn’t just speculation. In Q1 2013, Pinterest generated twice as much e-commerce as Twitter (pretty good for a service radically younger than its competition). According to Business Insider, while Facebook referrals fell from 62% to 55%, Pinterest’s rose from 18% to 25%. Clearly, the platform is taking a bite out of the established—and more text-based—social networks.

Marketers and advertisers have also had to change their practices in order to keep up with the visual web.

“Our job as designers and advertisers is to create new visual content that will easily blend into these platforms so ads become a normal, non-dispurtive part of consumer’s daily feed but still pop out in a unique way to get the consumer to engage with the brand,” Iammarino added.

With the visual web gaining ground in the e-commerce sector, branding experts have no reason not to play a part in the next evolution of web interfaces. Whether that means participating in the popular visual social media platforms available or honing an app or website to capture consumer interests, getting ahead of the next big wave means going visual.

Cover Photo Source: Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

Kaz is a Junior Executive at SJG. He earned BAs in English Writing and Business Marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing an MA in Advertising at The University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, Kaz consumes gobs of media including but not limited to books, magazines, music, movies and television.