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Are there any studies that report the effect of using/not using visual cues to engage users and retain user attention? In my own application I have offer listings with a representative graphical representation shown alongside a snippet of teaser text as show below

Offer listing with visual cues

Intuitively I feel that the visual cue goes a long way to persuading the user to take things a step further and examine the offer in detail. However, this is just my own, unverified, intuition.

I'd be most obliged for any views on how/whether this works in practice.

In the sample screenshot above I have used black images. Quite apart from size considerations I found that it is difficult to display colored images that are "uniform" - i.e. do not "guide" UX because some of the images shout "Click Me!", "CLICK ME", "click me!" louder than the others - another issue on which I would like some views.

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    What specific cues are referring to? There is also a signifier, such as the > brackets on the row items, suggesting drill down on an item. Are you asking if the icons improve recognition? Also, I'm wondering if you have the ability to test your app, with and without those icons (and trying a card, rather than a list with a >). That would be the best proof of all for your UX.
    – Mike M
    Jul 11 '17 at 13:12
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Assuming you mean the icons to the left of your text, your question is less about visual cues, and more about iconography.

You're unlikely to find a study which is useful to you, unless you're using the exact same icons as that study.

To get any meaningful information, you will need to perform your own study with your own icons.

There are plenty of guidelines regarding icons, but it's much too broad to cover here. Instead, I've noted below the particular guidelines which are relevant to your use case:


Use icons with caution

Icons can be effective, but only if done correctly.

Louis Rosenfeld et al suggest that:

Unless your system has a patient, loyal audience of users who are willing to learn your visual language, we suggest using iconic labels only for environments with a limited set of options.

In your case it seems you're far from having a limited set of options.


Cooper also notes some other issues with icons:

The problem is that the [icon] is seldom that clear for a first-time user.

Your icons seem to represent complex concepts, and it's likely that the user will understand the text much sooner than the icon.

The Nielsen Group has a fun rule-of-thumb for this:

If it takes you more than 5 seconds to think of an appropriate icon for something, it is unlikely that an icon can effectively communicate that meaning.

And also suggests that you:

  • Test the icons for recognizability: ask people what they expect the icons to stand for.
    • Test the icons for memorability: ask a repeat set of users if they can remember the icon’s meaning after being told what it represented a couple weeks earlier.
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  • Thanks. I suspect that I phrased my question a little incorrectly. I talked of icons when I really meant a graphical representation of the actual offer item (I know the distinction sounds subtle). In the context, I thought that the images (grapes to sell grapes, a barbecue to sell grills & barbecues etc) were relatively clear. I am working to the assumption that when used with similar text users who keep seeing the same graphical representations will make the relevant associations relatively rapidly.
    – DroidOS
    Jul 11 '17 at 14:17
  • The grapes and barbecue aren't so much the problem as the other two icons. Had you shown them to me without the text, I wouldn't be able to tell you what they represent :) This isn't a problem if there's a small number of icons because, as you say, users will make the associations themselves. But if there's many different icons, or the user isn't shown the icon often enough, it's unlikely the user is going to remember them. But the only way to know for sure is to test it with users and see. Jul 11 '17 at 14:38

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