Images and Perception

Last weekend my sister invited me to be part of an informal panel at Fatima, a portuguese catholic Sanctuary, on a short talk about the way someone from advertising looks at images and, to a further extent, to reality.

An image is worth a thousand words

Most of the times, this is quite true. Images are easily recognizable and a lot more easy to understand than words. Pick any blog, and even if the writing is good, we all know that rich imagery is more effective in creating interest and sharing knowledge.
In advertising, images are used to a larger extent, increasing the frequency of visual messages so consumers could easily recall what a brand is trying to communicate.

Lego - Periscope


But not all images are equally important or relevant. For instance, they shouldn’t be too complex, as this would made them harder to understand. This is particularly crucial when designing something, as we should strive to explain a concept or message in the simplest way we can.
The design principle of “form follows function” is one of the main advocates of simplicity, focusing on the purity of function and the real usefulness of objects, instead of the decoration of the form. In a more spiritual sense, we all find beauty in the simple things of life, as they are shown to us with not too much information to interpret, just “being”.


When we design something, if we add some irrelevant information, we’re hurting the message quality and it will become less useful. On a practical scenario, when a sales person is pitching their Powerpoint quoting word-by-word what’s on the slide, they should be aware that their clients are seconds away from getting another cup of cofee.

Rules of thumb

Sometimes it’s easier to communicate visually, if we have some shortcuts available. Art, design and visual imagery in general, all share interesting patterns that we all can use to help people understand messages:

  • Archetypes:

    Rebirth - Playstation
    These common traits are shared between most cultures, and found in myths such as death and rebirth, or the heroes stories (from Gigalmesh to Superman). Advertising often uses brand-ambassadors as a representation of heroes or highlights the healing features of cosmetics as a reminiscence of rebirth.

  • Mathematical patterns
    Rule Of thirds
    The Fibonacci series, the golden section or the rule of thirds have been successfully used in art, so you should try it sometimes and see if it helps to better explain your message.
  • Face-ism
    Humans tend to prefer faces that are more average, more healthy and have rounder shapes. No wonder kids are a regular presence in ads.

Emotion carrier

Usually advertising has a more materialistic take on visual imagery, using them to represent the brand or company values, announcing that a product is fresh or a service is secure.
But sometimes, through their simplicity or using established patterns, visual messages have the power to awaken feelings, and cause a solid emotional reaction.


These are the times when images have the power to open up our hearts.