Im creating an app where on main screen I'll present contacts. Im wondering if I should present them to user in grid view or table view. I assume that list view is probably faster. But if I choose grid view I need to know if I should visualize contacts with profile images or texts. I tried to find some research which of this options have heavier cognitive load and which is faste. I think that alse matters how much contacts are preseneted on page at the same time. Does anybody know any good research on have a knowledege by yourself please tell me.

Oh, currently the app has a different approach, here's the screen:
Current state

But I want to test a grid view approach more like a Brewster app: Brewster app

But Brewster has both images and text, I'm very interested in showing just one of them.

  • This should be relevant: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/58525/… Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 8:17
  • It was good to read it, but it has a lack of info about grid view. Thanks realy.
    – Klemen
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 8:52
  • Could you maybe provide a mockup for both versions?
    – msp
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 9:04
  • What reason do you have for wanting to present less information to your users? Fewer contacts lowers cognitive load, but only using image OR text increases it by making recall harder. Research into psychology of learning clearly shows that the combination of images w/text or audio is better for retention/recall of information. As stated below, by using only 1 you also face the problem of people w/o profile photos. Then what about fake names, or when you have 15 "John Smith"s in your contacts? psychologytoday.com/blog/get-psyched/201207/…
    – mc01
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 22:25
  • 15 Johns Smiths is not an issue. And even if it is, this also means that user have it saved this way in his iphone addressbook and there is also no way to differentiate between the contacts. In my app the names are taken from the users addressbook and if he has multiple users with the same name that's his issue. What fist come to my mind to solve this unusual issue is to append something to the end of the name (maybe a part of his email, where he lives, index number, etc)
    – Klemen
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 9:28

3 Answers 3



The need of animals to visually recognise things in their environment for what they are, and in the case of humans - face recognition, are key survival skills. This cognitive ability has evolved in humans well before language was invented, let alone written one.

As such, the brain ability to recognise imagery is quicker than its ability to interpret written words.

Accordingly, the visuospatial memory is the strongest, fastest and largest of all other types of memories (albeit some people are better utilising other types of memory, but this ability is acquired, not inherited).

What's more, when it comes to face recognition, despite their perceived complexity, the set of visual generalisations the brain makes is marvellously basic and simple - face recognition happens in an instant.

Serial vs parallel

Most people's names have less than 3 words, which means the eye can scan each name with a single fixation - this is good for visual searching. However, text is read using eye fixations in a serial manner; this means that in order to read a shopping list (or a list of contacts), each item has to be scanned - one at a time (this is true if you actually reading it; for visual search the brain takes shortcuts, but it's a process that with words still involves more fixations).

With a group of images, a single fixation could suffice as in addition to the point of fixation the brain also processes in parallel the peripheral view.

For example, if I'd ask you to find the Kiwi in the next image, the priming for green and oval shape mean you'll be able to spot it with a single fixation (scroll down quickly to see this in action - you should spot the kiwi without even trying to).

A 4x4 matrix of 16 fruit and veg

To demonstrate the feature-generalisation nature of visual cognition, look at the following image from far (so the fixation is on the whole matrix, not a particular cell within it). You'd still be able to spot with ease the apple.

A 4x4 matrix of 16 fruit and veg

While you are also primed when searching for someone's name, your brain still has to utilise more fixations and the process is largely serial. Find the pear:

  • Strawberry
  • Lime
  • Banana
  • Watermelon
  • Lemon
  • Peach
  • Pomegranate
  • Guava
  • Papaya
  • Pear
  • Orange
  • Kiwi
  • Apple
  • Blood orange
  • Carambola

Did your eye briefly fixated on the Papaya? Can you think why?

From personal experience

There is a usability issue with Spotify on mobile that relates to exactly this.

In my music library, I have many playlists. The playlist list involves images of the cover:

A screenshot of the Your Music page on Spotify mobile, showing cover images next to each line

When I look for a particular playlist, I scroll through this list real quick as the search is for imagery cues.

However, for a playlist itself, Spotify has no cover images:

A screenshot of Spotify's playlist list-view, a list made of songs but no images

This makes sense if the whole playlist is of a single album. But I have a playlist of 50 different songs from 50 different albums, and trying to find a song in this list is really difficult compared to finding a playlist in the previous view. (And I do this every morning, with the same playlist, and it's a real pain.)


Adding avatars will decrease the time it takes people to recognise the person they're after. Using a grid rather than list view, when possible, will take advantage of the brains parallel visual processing for peripheral view.

  • Very well explained. The example with fruit confirmed that images are preaty fast to recognize. Even it their out of users focus. Of course to talk about this stuf I think it also has to be taken into account the number of contacts presented on the same page. And also if you include both avatar and name and if some users have avatar and some don't I thing brains need more time to recognize at first contact the image and on the next one it neads to recognize the text and swithing in that way I dont think it's a good way. The only reason to keep both I think it's for the sake of accesibility.
    – Klemen
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 9:17

My gut reaction would be images rather than text. The human mind operates by pattern matching which is why its often easy to recognised someone instantly - but sometimes harder to recall their name.

Text has to be 'processed' by the mind so its a slower process.

This is vaguely related to the findings on "recall versus recognition'. Here's a UX related article on this from Neilsen Norman Group.


I don't have any beautiful research at hand, but I can explain why just images probably isn't going to be an option: A lot of users have vague and/or generic profile pictures. If everybody would upload beautiful profile pictures like in the Brewster screenshot then it would definitely be a great idea to just show a grid of images.

Now, it could be that the user doesn't control his own account in your application (rare, but possible) in which case you could opt for a text-less grid layout. This however would only be possible if for example you're developing an application for teaching environments where all the student photos are taken every year by a professional photographer. And even in that case adding the text is useful as an extra reminder for teachers to learn the names. All in all I guess the conclusion is that you better just add the text.

  • The problem with the lack of photos has a presence in my app. So I'm incliened to using text. And yes I agree, the photo of brewster is just an anomaly and prety much an exeption. No need for this kind of idealization.
    – Klemen
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 9:22

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