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  2. Design Theory

The Significance of Visual Context in Web Design

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According to results from an oft-quoted study by Missouri University of Science and Technology visitors take less than two tenths of a second to form an opinion about your business website. It is visual context that helps them understand what’s going on, form a solid impression and stay longer. Visuals have a compelling impact on users as they can more effectively deliver a quick message than textual content.

In terms of the written word, the absence of context makes it difficult for a reader to understand what a writer wants to convey. This happens in web design as well. A website needs to create a visual context which communicates the background knowledge and story of the organization it belongs to. 

What is Visual Context?

Visual context refers to presentation of content that improves the delivery of a website’s message.

For example, the website of an architect may include a portfolio of successful projects. It is at the discretion of a user to either explore this expertise section or not. But visual context from the outset (the use of imagery, color, space) will ensure the users get to know the architect’s design knowledge, experience in building and construction, and administrative expertise all the same.

Take another example of this aerospace engineering company. The bold display of aircraft and engineering clarifies at a glance their position in the aerospace industry. The user isn’t even obliged to read the banner text.


Imagine how that same landing page would appear if we were to remove the images of the aircraft? Undoubtedly more vague and complex. Merc Aerospace offer a wide range of engineering solutions to different sectors but are mainly exposed to the aerospace industry, all of which is represented suitably through visuals.

How is Visual Context Created?

Creating a visual context depends on understanding your users. The perspective of a user changes with age, gender, and ethnicity. For instance, adding images with white color may encourage a notion of happiness for one community, but convey signs of sadness for others. Therefore, in order to incorporate visuals perfectly into a business context, you’ll need to evaluate the understanding of the people you need to reach, something which user personas can help you with.

The following are some worthy ingredients for creating visual context:

  •          Images relating to the nature of the business
  •          Infographics to summarize a body of text in a scannable way
  •          Arrows, lines, and curlicues to highlight numbers or show direction
  •          Selection of words and phrases enrich the visual context
  •          Storytelling through creatively woven graphics
  •          Appealing icons for helpful navigation

How Important is Visual Context?

Let’s look at some reasons behind the significance of visual context:

First Impressions Count

As mentioned earlier, users take a fraction of a second to form an opinion about your website. A more concentrated opinion is reinforced in just another couple of seconds after that. The branding, imagery, and icons have to create a magnanimous first impression in a short span of time. To encourage users to stay for longer, maker sure visual context gives them an informed view of what the website is about and what it stands for.

It Aids Information Delivery

The visuals of a website have a “sensual” appeal compared to textual context. A user will likely notice the complementary images that are corroborating the overall context, rather than phrases and paragraphs. However good your story telling, that initial emotional response from the user is heavily dependant on visuals, helping the final conveyance of information.

Better User Understanding

The visual context makes a story live. It makes a user (unknown to the website) understand a business and its operations. He or she will get the core business idea from the context, then search for the options, products, and services available. 

If you are pursuing an innovative user interface, which defies conventions, visual context will help bridge the gap between users and your product.

Emotional Bonds Are Important

Visual context is helpful in trigging the emotions of a target audience. Take the example of Lend With Care, a microfinance organization. Count the number of human faces on the homepage, instantly giving context and connecting with the user. The warm, soft colors make the website inviting, the smiles convey positivity and a feeling of community.


Within moments visitors have an emotional bond with the website. 

And this can apply to products equally well–customers can just as likely form connections with a variety of products. As a designer it’s your job to create visuals which touch the inner senses of a target audience. 


Visual context helps users, especially first time visitors, interpret a website’s characteristics and values. As a designer, you can use what we’ve discussed–that crucial combination of imagery, color, visual data, infographics, videos, animation, icons, direction, and all other visual tools at your disposal–to create that all-important context. 

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