The Science of Contrasting Content on Images

The Science of Contrasting Content on Images

We love great design. A well-crafted poster brings us so much glee, as do ads and websites of the same nature. One topic that frequently arises when talking to clients is why we choose to overlay our content on images the way we do. That is, why we don’t place bold text on top of equally radiant pictures. From afar it would seem counterproductive, since, especially in these modern, minimalist days, colour and vibrancy are “in.” Please rest easily with the knowledge that logic underpins our seemingly befuddling decision.

First, we understand that the image and text are both important. By reducing the intensity of the photo or illustration we’re actually giving the piece unique appeal and room to breathe; the elements can complement each other rather than fight for the viewer’s attention.

The Neilson Norman Group, a leading voice in the user-experience field, explains the concept well in their article: “When text is difficult to decipher, readers are forced to choose between straining their eyes and skipping over content. Rather than risk that users ignore the text, implement small changes to the design to increase the contrast between the text and background.”

You can do this is by muting, blurring, or darkening/lighting the image (depending on whether the text is dark or bright). This allows readers to, well, read what’s on the picture.

As an individual who loves dazzling pictures, it is a bit disheartening to see them presented more modestly in these situations. But they have to be. It’s so much easier on the mind and eyes, since they evolved to only focus on the most important parts of our surroundings. If two things – in this case words and a picture – are competing for our attention within the same space we’ll be unable to concentrate on either. For those wanting to promote their business or a cause with ads or websites that look too busy this could be dreadful. Even though they might seem rather insignificant they can easily give potential customers the wrong idea. Remember, making a good impression is usually a one-time thing.

To avoid this fiasco, simply ensure there is a clear distinction between what’s going on in the foreground and background of the image. Also consider what impression about you or your company you want to give others. This will help you decide upon an appropriate colour scheme, typography, and so forth. This process can be quite fun but also requires knowledge of how these elements interact with each other. This is where our design team’s expertise comes into play.

So, the next time you want a snazzy advertisement made or an appealing image to decorate your landing page, make sure that: a) you can look at it for more than five seconds, b) that you can read what’s on it, c) that you love looking at it, and d) that others do too. When you can tick off these boxes it’s safe to say you’re en route to success.


Alexandra Latremouille
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