Visual Design: Apply The Picture Superiority Effect


When I learned that I would have a few very special guests attending my visual design lecture this month, I redesigned my lesson plans.  While these lessons aren’t quite Slideshare-ready yet, I would like to share them with you over the next few days.  I promise to debut the new visual design Slideshare presentation before the end of January!

The new lessons focus on teaching my students 7 key rules for effective slide design.  Yesterday, we began with rule number one: Slides Are Not Documents!  Read that article here.  Today, we will focus on rule two:


When we realize that slides are not documents, applying the picture superiority effect is the second step in effective slide creation.

If we treat our slides as documents, our slides look like this:


The picture superiority effect says that an audience can more easily process and recall information if it is presented visually.  We remember pictures more than we remember words.  Since the goal of your presentation is to stick in your audience’s minds, to touch and to effect them, you definitely want to create slides that resonate.

Dr. John Medina teaches us that vision trumps all other senses.  Medina’s Brain Rules explains that, “We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%” (Source).  This short video explains the picture superiority effect in 30 seconds.

This effect works when large, clear, and beautiful images are used.  The only place I go to find images for my slides is Compfight.  Compfight is a Flickr search engine and allows you to find images that are legally usable as well as images that will be large enough to fill an entire slide.


Images That Are Legally Usable:

The most important thing to remember about the PSE is that all images belong to someone.  Either an individual photographer or a huge company took, arranged, and/or designed the photograph.  Because of this, we can’t just go to Google images, search for “dog,” and use anything that pops up.  In my case, because they are going to appear on both in my classroom and on my blog, I use “Commercial” images.  If you are a student working on a project for class, you will likely be able to use “Creative Commons” images depending on your school.  Always check the license and respect the owner’s wishes.  You can get yourself into a lot of legal and financial trouble for misusing images or for forgetting to show credit to the owner of the image.  ALWAYS cite your images and ALWAYS respect the license of that image.

Don’t use Google images unless you’re searching by license.  Don’t use clip art, corny stock photos, or images with watermarks.

Images That Are Large Enough To Fill Up A Slide:

A slide is 1024×768, so when you are searching for images, it is important to select pictures that are AT LEAST that size.  Compfight allows you to save “Large” and, sometimes, “Original” images that are much bigger.  Check the size, and I recommending saving and using the largest possible picture.  You can always shrink an image, but you can’t blow up an image and maintain the integrity of that image.

Slide revolutionaries often mention the picture superiority effect.  Check out the following articles for more information on designing beautiful, clear images applying the PSE: Garr Reynolds’ “Picture superiority effect, pictograms, and culture.”  My colleague and slide master, Chiara Ojeda, blogged about the PSE in her August 2012 post “Does visual really matter?”  You can also read more about how the PSE influences consumers in this article appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Check back tomorrow for the third rule of strong, effective, visually-driven slides.