Mobile

Why the big picture matters on mobile

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Peter Yared is the CTO of CBS Interactive.

Chances are you’ve checked out Instagram, Tinder, Whisper or Snapchat within the last hour. Or maybe the last five minutes. They are some of the most popular and addicting consumer mobile apps today. And they have a remarkably consistent user interface: a big picture with an accompanying line of text.

Research indicates that reading is actually quite difficult for the human brain, which from the start evolved to capture and process mountains of information visually. The narrowing of information delivery instigated by text messaging and Twitter has trained users to communicate efficiently with fewer words. The paucity of text has allowed imagery to take over on the mobile form factor, as evidenced by the most popular new apps.

The attention-focusing layout of a big picture with accompanying line of text originated with the newspaper front page. Above the fold layouts were used for big events such as wars, royal weddings, and big sporting events. Or, in the case of The New York Post, every day. yared 2 This treatment first emerged on the web with memes such as LOLcat and has subsequently infiltrated every aspect of the Internet. yared 3 The picture with accompanying line of text trend has become so pervasive that Whisper, a popular app for anonymously sharing thoughts, automatically suggests somewhat contextually-relevant images for the user to pick from. The thoughts without imagery are actually somewhat hokey. Adding imagery makes them seem somewhat deeper, as Saturday Night Live showcased with its popular Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey interstitials: yared 4 Facebook and Twitter are including larger images in newsfeeds to accompany a short line of text, and newer apps like Circle and Jelly are combining the Flipboard-style text overlay on each image in a newsfeed, a look that Facebook and Twitter will likely also soon implement. yared 5 Snapchat even allows messaging with hand drawn additions.

Perhaps in the next phase of this evolution, there won’t even be a line of text at all. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The only saving grace for the written word in 2014 may be the strong growth of Ev William’s long-form oriented Medium. While short-form communication continues to accelerate, a contra-trend of long-form content may materialize as well.

In our increasingly polarized, bifurcated world, there likely will not be much room for anything in between. Peter Yared

Peter Yared is the CTO of CBS Interactive and has founded four e-commerce and marketing infrastructure companies that were acquired by Sun, VMware, Webtrends and TigerLogic. You can follow him at @peteryared.

More about the companies and people from this article:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 w... read more »

Instagram is a free photo sharing application designed for use on Apple iOS devices developed by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. The application, which is compatible with any iPhone or iPod Touch running iOS 3.1.2 or above, allows user... read more »

Path is the smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love. Launched in November of 2010, Path has grown to include over two million people sharing life with close friends and family all over the world. The company ... read more »

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