We humans are visual animals. We don’t know how to read when we’re born, instead we learn by observing others, video, and kids books. This visual approach has been part of our learning foundation for thousands of years from cavemen to modern day babies. From drawings on cave walls to comic strips, visualization is the foundation of communication.
Our right brain thinks in pictures, and the left side of the brain thinks in words. Using words to describe something supposedly stalls the right brain. This stalling is called Verbal Overshadowing. Verbal Overshadowing is a belief that memory performance is impaired if a memory is described verbally.
This phenomenon is believed to hinder, or impair, memory and recognition. For example, a person would be asked to describe the suspect if they had witnessed a crime. The witness’s ability to describe the suspect would have a difficult time doing so; however, the witness could more easily identify the suspect in a photo or identify them in a crowd.
I’ve heard people comment on McDonald’s registers which have moved to an icon approach and away from text and numbers. I’m guessing McDonald’s figured out that new employees could more easily pick up the checkout flow by using icons (visuals) instead of a text and numeral based checkout register. This means that no matter what language or education level the employees have, they will be able to easily transition into working the front counter of any McDonald’s no matter where in the world they are located.
Why then, do we see software systems that are text-centric? Is that less effective? Would it not be better if we had a visualization focus instead? This would seem especially effective in time sensitive environments in which seconds and minutes shaved off decision making can save a life.
So, what do you think?