Goodbye Graphics, Hello Gray Text

isnt' that cool !

Thursday, May 4, 2000
Vol. 2, Issue 87

Goodbye Graphics, Hello Gray Text

By John Zipperer

As if manna from editorial heaven, a new study suggests 
that visitors to news Web sites are more interested in text 
than in punchy graphics, photos, and flashing banner ads. 
Stanford University and the Poynter Institute
( ) collaborated on 
the research, which found that when study participants 
first loaded a news page, their eyes did not go to fancy 
charts or other graphics but rather to text. 

"What this shows about graphics is that they're not
powerful as entry points to a page," said Andrew
DeVigal, a research associate with Poynter. 

Using an electronic tracking device that recorded eye
movements (and that was later spun off as part of ( )), the
study measured where the subject was looking and how long he
or she spent looking at each element and coordinated that
information with the different Web sites and pages the
subject visited. DeVigal says the subjects used the home
of each news site as an index page, clicking from it to go
various stories. 

Banner ads did not usually attract the subjects' attention,
and those ads that were viewed were seen for an average of
only one second. Though the study's overview claims,
"That is long enough to perceive the ad," one Web
design critic suggests another interpretation. 

"You may find that people spent one second looking at
the ad, but it may be that users spent one second deciding
ignore the ad," said Jakob Nielsen, a principal at the
Nielsen Norman Group. Nielsen isn't lamenting the poor
showing of ads; in fact, he argues that advertising works
with the passive viewing required for television but is ill
suited to active Web use. "When you're online, people
are more likely to want to go to the things they want to go
to and not where advertisers want them to go." 

Nielsen takes heart that the Poynter-Stanford research
confirms his own earlier studies
( ) on the 
topic. But he cautions Web designers against trying to apply
to their own sites lessons from Poynter, which was only
concerned with news content sites. "The vast majority of 
people who are designing Web sites are not doing it for
newspapers; they're doing it for intranet or corporate Web
sites." He says the best lesson for the average designer 
is the admonition not to rely on graphics, to use plain
language, and to avoid using marketing or promotional

Received on Friday, 5 May 2000 04:41:03 UTC