The Importance of Visual Context in Web Design
May 5, 2020

In April 2011, Michael Dubin and Mark Levine launched their website for a company called “Dollar Shave Club.” The feature of the website was an explainer video about the company and its value to men (it now caters to women too). That video went viral within hours. And it launched what is today a multi-million-dollar operation.


Say It Visually – The Importance of Visual Context in Web Design

frame from the Dollar Shave Club commercial

The point is, this video said in less than 90 seconds what it would have taken lots of text to explain in a far more boring way (and it’s hysterical, by the way).

The human brain processes visual content about 60,000K faster than text. And the retention level is higher too. And if that isn’t enough to convince you that visual context is critical for a website, here are a few more stats:

  1. In the month following Facebook’s intro of the timeline for brands, their visual content realized a 65% increase in engagement.
  2. 85% of Internet users watch online videos.
  3. Consumers who view videos about products/services are 74% more likely to make a purchase.

But video is just one part of visual content – there are photos, infographics, AR/VR experiences, colors, logos, etc. – all of which can be used to deliver messages and promote a brand on a website.‍


So, Just How Important is Visual Context?

Irrespective of the statistics above, let’s take a look at why visual content is so important.


1. First Impressions

A well-known study from the Missouri University of Science and Technology shows that it takes a website visitor about two-tenths of a second to form a first impression about a business website.  If they are presented with compelling and engaging visuals as soon as they land, they are more likely to stay.

If a business can create a visual that immediately sends a message of what the site is all about, users are attracted.


2. Visuals Aid in Information Delivery

Brands can tell their stories through pictures and videos. These might include photos of their teams in action, or visuals of happy customers using their products, environmental or charitable causes they support, etc. Consumers can relate to stories, especially when told with visuals and a bit of explanation text.

Companies can also provide great photos of their products, along with creative and engaging descriptions. 

Will your content go viral? Probably not. But all of these things serve to make visitors to a site remember that business. And, if they are not ready to make a purchase right now, when they are ready, they will think of you.


3. Visuals Can Foster an Emotional Bond

In 2006, Blake Mycoskie founded Toms Shoes. He had a mission. After visiting Argentina and experiencing the hardships of children with no shoes, he vowed to do something about that. He founded his shoe company as a for-profit business but set up a one-for-one charitable program. For every shoe purchased, a pair was donated to a needy child. The website is filled with photos of this giving program, which has now expanded to eyewear, clean water, and prenatal care. Visitors to the website cannot help but feel emotional about what this man is doing. And they want to support the effort.

Blake Mycoskie  charitable program

If you can find ways to establish an emotional relationship with consumers who visit your site, you will have a consumer who wants to buy from you.

Even if you are not a Toms Shoes, there are still ways in which emotional bonds can be established with visitors – through colors, through music, through augmented and virtual reality experiences, etc. 

Clothing and eyeglass retailers, as well as resorts, provide such experiences for their customers. They can virtually try on clothing and glasses frames; they can take virtual tours of a resort. Even wine companies are getting into the act. A consumer can scan a label with his smartphone and be taken to the vineyard and the story of how that wine was crafted. All of these things play on emotional responses that consumers have to products/services – excitement, fun, inspiration, etc.


How to Create Effective Visual Context

When crafting visual content for a website, there are some critical considerations:


1. Know Your Audience

If the demographics of the audience are not clearly identified, then visuals can be all wrong. You would not use the same photos, videos, etc. for a young Gen Z audience as you would for senior citizens. Developing a user persona is essential, and understanding their sense of humor, their cultural preferences, and what inspires them should drive the visuals that are used. This requires research. As Bill Blankenship, Marketing Director for Wow Grade says: “Gen Z is our primary audience – students in high school and college who need help with their writing assignments. We understand their needs, problems, humor, and language style well. And so, we are able to design our website with the engaging text and visuals they appreciate.”


2. Select the Right Images and Media with Good Variety

Using a variety of visuals is also appealing. Try to vary them.

  • Photos and videos for explanations, how-to’s, and storytelling
  • Infographics so that text can be seen in a visual/scannable way
  • Lines, arrows, drawings, etc. to highlight important info
  • Colors that reflect your brand – check out the research on color psychology
  • Colorful icons and CTA buttons‍



Visual context is so significant because it gives first-time visitors a “feel” for your brand, your character, and even your values. Further, visuals can replace an awful lot of text, and they are just processed faster and better.