Iron Chef America: Exposing The Thousand Words Myth
Note: This blog entry is best appreciated if you wait until the very end before playing this video.
When my clients' Web sites include image galleries (portfolios of work, showcases of products, etc.), I always encourage (more like instruct) them to compose brief but vivid descriptions to go along with the images. Some (more like many) clients resist (more like disobey). They claim they don't have time. They claim they don't know what to say. They claim it's not necessary because, after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I can usually bring them around. All it takes — in most cases — is invoking the "S" word (more like "S phrase): Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I remind them that (a) we want their Web site to be favorably ranked by search engines and (b) search engine spiders all but ignore images ("alt" tags being the reason for saying "all but").
But SEO is just one of the compelling reasons to annotate images with vivid text.
The other — arguably more important — reason is that vivid text content enhances the visitor experience. Associating descriptive text with pictures draws attention to the subtler elements in those pictures and turns those pictures into stories.
Bottom line: While it's generally accepted that a picture is worth a thousand words, adorning a picture with well-chosen, vivid words can geometrically increase the worth of that picture.
This point was driven home for me with particular force recently by the Food Channel show, Iron Chef America.
For the uninitiated (with apologies to aficionados of the show who will surely grimace at my probably-feeble attempt to summarize it), Iron Chef America is The Great Race meets Rachel Ray and Giada De Laurentiis.
Actually, I was among the uninitiated until just the other night, when Margie won the coin-toss for the TV remote.
For the first fifty minutes of this hour-long program, contestant chefs (and their sous-chefs) scurry about Kitchen Stadium in a race to beat the clock to create several dishes using featured ingredients, with the hope of earning the most points on the dimensions of taste, plating and originality.
During the final ten minutes of the program, each chef presents his or her creations to the 3-judge panel, describing each course as the judges nibble, chew and imbibe.
So what does this have to do with Web-site design?
The YouTube video at the top of this blog post is from one of the Iron Chef America programs. Mute your speakers and watch the 13 seconds from the 0:59 mark to the 1:12 mark.
Then watch the segment again with the sound on. You'll hear Chef Cat Cora describing her Moroccan Fritto Misto. Whether you might like this dish or not (and it seems the judges weren't blown away by it), it's hard to dispute that her description dramatically enhances our sense of this creation — even if we're watching the show in HD.
I can tell you this: next time a client wants to debate me over adding words to pictures, we're going to watch Iron Chef America clips. Or meet at Cheesecake Factory for dessert.
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