Humans are dominated by visuals. But the Web reflects a movement away from this visual dominance.
For millions of years we lived in a world dominated by visuals and images. We saw the lion coming. We didn't need to be able to name the lion. We didn't need to be able to write the world "lion." We just needed to run like hell and climb that tree.
Our brains are much more wired to understand and interpret visuals than they are to understand text. Our brains believe that what looks right is right, what looks wrong is wrong. Of course, the other big factor in decision-making is emotion. Generally we make decisions based on feelings rather than logic or reason.
Marketers and advertisers have long known about the dominance of visuals and emotions in our decision-making processes, and have often exploited these facts.
When margarine was first invented it was colored yellow to make it look more like butter. Rich people ate white bread so poor people wanted white bread. Only high quality flour resulted in white bread, so bakers started coloring the low quality flour to get more white-looking bread.
In 1858 in Bradford in the UK, 200 people were made sick and 20 died from eating lozenges. The sweets had been coated with arsenic. "The lozenge-maker had intended to adulterate his lozenges with plaster of Paris but had bought arsenic by mistake," writes Bee Wilson in her excellent book on food adulteration called Swindled. Seemingly parents and kids were obsessed with the brightest colored sweets possible, and manufacturers obliged by coating sweets with various poisons.
I always remember the arrival of the first vacuum cleaner in our house. I was fascinated by it, so fascinated by it that my mother said to me: "Why don't you clean the carpets with it?" I was excited at first, but as the weeks went by and I was asked again and again to clean those bloody carpets, I learned to despise the very sight of a vacuum cleaner.
That is until I came across the Dyson vacuum cleaner. Yes, it was expensive but it was such quality, such amazing design. After years of using a particular Dyson model, some parts wore out. We rang up service expecting to pay for the new parts. Not alone were we not charged but a service engineer came out an installed them for free.
"There are two sides to the design coin," James Dyson has recently stated. "There is serious design - making sure that the manufactured object performs its task in the best possible way. And there is styling - the essentially superficial task of making sure something looks attractive … styling for its own sake is a lazy 20th century conceit."
The Web reflects a society that is maturing. It is a more questioning, probing, skeptical society. Is it totally rational and logical? Absolutely not. Of course, we like our websites and products to look beautiful. But it is much more important to the Web customer that websites and products work beautifully.