Image vs. Copy

Which is more powerful in conveying a message?





“Show, don’t tell.”

Every designer has had this phrase engrained in his or her brain since they first started studying design.

The advice is simple: Don’t treat your audience like idiots. Make them think. In the long run, your message will be more powerful if your audience has to take some time to decipher it.

Yet, is image or type more effective when attempting to convey a message in a powerful way?

Let us use the two images above as examples. The first one is a print ad for Colgate Floss and uses a kiwi with its seeds removed to illustrate the function of the product. When you first look at the image, you do not know that it is supposed to be an advertisement for floss. You see a kiwi without its seeds. Great! Yet, after a closer look, you see the Colgate Floss in the bottom right corner and you realize that the kiwi is a metaphor for a person’s teeth. If you have ever eaten a kiwi before, you know the seeds inevitably get stuck in between your teeth. Without using any copy, the kiwi image provides a witty and effective metaphor for what Colgate Floss can help you prevent.

The IKEA ad, however, is just as effective, yet only uses copy. The jumble of letters that still legibly read “coffee table,” pokes fun at their brand in a relatable way. IKEA sells relatively inexpensive furniture that you assemble yourself. Yet, being human, mistakes are often made during assembly. This is something that everyone can relate to if he or she has ever bought a piece of furniture from IKEA. In this ad, the letters represent the different building blocks of a coffee table. The misspelled word itself is a metaphor for the misassembled furniture. IKEA was able to convey their witty message just as effectively as Colgate Floss was, but by using solely copy.

So, this begs the question, which is more effective?

Well, it depends on the message, and how you use the type and the image.

An effective ad can be the fusion of type and image. It can be solely type, and it can be solely image. One must keep in mind the composition, the interaction of type and image, and the message that needs to be conveyed, to decide what elements he or she would like to incorporate into the design.

For Colgate Floss, just an image was the perfect way to construe their message. With IKEA, the jumbled copy was a perfect way to convey their image.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is no definite answer to this question, only a qualifying one: It depends. Make your viewers think by either using type, image, or a mixture of both.

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