What side of a web page should you place pictures?

This might sound a daft question. After all the position of images on a web page depends on your overall design, the template you are using if it is a content management system, the size of the image and a host of other factors. Surely there can’t be a right or wrong side for an image?

But research from Vancouver, Canada has shown that the position of images on a page does have important psychological consequences. Apparently, it is all to do with our perception of time.

For people who read from left to right we perceive the left as the past and the right as the future. But for people who read right to left, such as for the Hebrew language, the time effect is the other way around, with the right of the page being seen as the past and the left as the future.

Before and After

For instance, when people show you a web page or a printed document with pictures of something which involves a “before” and an “after” situation, as in some kind of makeover, the before picture is always on the left (the past) and the after picture is always on the right (the future) – at least for those of us in a left to right world. If you see the “after” picture in front of the “before” picture it looks odd, out of place, and we don’t “get it”.

Many business websites are offering products and services which suggest some kind of change or improvement – buy this, you’ll get rid of that. So the picture of the problem the web page is solving should be on the left with the pictures of the solution on the right.

But what if you are selling antiques online? Well, our perception is they are things of the past – so logically we expect to see them on the left. If your shopping cart puts the images on the right of the text, people will perceive that as incongruent and may be less likely to buy as a result.

So when placing images on your web pages you need to consider whether the picture is related to the past or the future. That will help you decide the right place on the page.

Interestingly, the researchers found that there is no impact related to time in the vertical placement of pictures. Our minds are so fixed on an horizontal association with time changing, the vertical position of pictures doesn’t seem to matter much.

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2 Responses to What side of a web page should you place pictures?

  1. G 7th March 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    I’m reminded of a big washing powder brand that wanted to break into a (right-left reading) middle eastern market – but not use local and/or international marketing talent.
    Lots of money was spent entertaining the locals with big billboards proudly proclaiming the powders ability to add stains to clean clothes.

  2. Ricardo Carvalho 11th March 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Is there any mention of these studies approaching oriental cultures? It’s interesting mentioning that there’s no impact on vertical alignment considering the Chinese view time as for example “the month above” and the “month below” due to the way they write (One study as an example: http://www.psych.uncc.edu/pagoolka/cognition2007pp427.pdf)