Test test test

For all mood pictures, but especially for pictures of people, it's very difficult to predict what people's reactions will be.

Look at the photos in Figure 11-23 from one of the institutes in the U. S. National Institutes of Health. What adjectives would you use for them? Are they appropriate to the site?

In usability testing, the pictures at this site did very well. People saw the people in the two photos as serious researchers - the mood and brand that the agency wanted to project. "Serious" seemed to work here.

Figure 11-23 What do these photos say to you about this site?

www.niaid.nih.gov

Figure 11-23 What do these photos say to you about this site?

www.niaid.nih.gov

However, "serious" doesn't always work. A colleague told me that his team found it impossible to include a photo with a serious expression on a health care site. With every "serious expression" picture that they tested, some people thought the person looked unhappy or even angry. The team ended up showing only smiles.

Even the grouping that you use may evoke emotions and explanations that surprise you. A site for people concerned with cancer tried a photo of a man with two children. One test participant's reaction was, "Oh, poor family. Did the Mom die?"

Putting your prototype web pages in front of people and getting their reactions is the only way to know how the pictures you picked will be perceived. You can do that in focus groups or in usability testing. Whichever method you use, don't just show the photos by themselves. Show them in the context of the web page they'll be on and the other web content they'll be with. Context matters, as you've seen in the stories I've just told.

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