Make your information matter: Make it symmetrical!

Make your information matter: Make it symmetrical!

Making your article, blog or marketing message visually symmetrical does matter to your readers by making it seem more appealing and relevant

Writing an interesting article, blog post or an engaging marketing message that matters to your readers is a tough job. It is not only about making your text relevant, interesting and engaging, but also about making the visual composition right. So, while you or your graphical designer may have great ideas on how visualize your content and make it to stand our from the crowd, there is an important yet simple principle to consider. Make it symmetrical!

Συμμετρία (meaning “symmetry” in Greek) is agreement in dimensions, due proportion, arrangement. Despite slightly different meanings across different fields and contexts, it all comes down basically to the notions of balance and harmony.

Traditional mass media, such as newspapers, employ variety of formats and layouts for telling their stories. Like in the example below from an FT article with a symmetrical layout where we have symmetrically positioned image, title and text.

expilab_blog_make_it_symmetrical_FT_exampleImage credit: florianleonhard.com

One may say classical layout is boring! Indeed, it may be an appropriate style to write about hedge funds, economic recessions, stock prices (no offense, finance people!) or general news. But it seems to be not at all appealing when you plan to write a killer story or convince others in your opinion.

One may say classical layout is boring!

Of course nicely designed articles, blogs, posts or promotional materials are great to have as it gives this unique touch to them. We don’t want to look like someone else. We want to make our articles & posts to stand out and leave the digital trace of twits, reposts, likes and shares.

expilab_blog_making_it_symmetric_assymmtric_exampleCredit: Oliver Jeffers

This is all great, but thinking about that FT article, it appears that such visual composition does make sense as it makes the topic of discussion more relevant for
readers and leads to increased attention to quality of your arguments. And more importantly, symmetric layouts the texts make people act on upon information about the discussion topic.

This peace of advise comes from two scholars of the Pennsylvania State University, Brianna Middlewood and Prof. Karen Gasper who published the article “Making information matter: Symmetrically appealing layouts promote issue relevance, which facilitates action and attention to argument quality” (published at JESP: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2014.03.003)

Findings about symmetry increasing relevance are based on the number of earlier research studies that have shown that symmetry increases appeal of images for example. Symmetry of image objects makes it more appealing! Appeal in its turn has been shown to increase people’s desire to associate and identify with attractive, appealing things.

Apart from the relationship among symmetry, appeal and desire (to associate with), there is more. Number of research studies have also shown that information that can be processed (e.g. read) easier influences the perception of trustworthiness. So, the authors raised a valid question whether symmetry as being more ‘readable’ for people has something to do with perception of trust in information displayed and whether it leads eventually to a greater information engagement.

To explore all these relationships in depth, Brianna and Karen have conducted 3 experiments with more than 250 people who read the message presented in symmetric and asymmetric layouts followed by the sets of questions which explored appeal, reading difficulty, trustworthiness, relevance and other. While participants of the first experiment were undergraduate students of PSU, participants for 2nd and 3rd experiments were recruited through Mechanical Turk by Amazon.

Expilab blog: Making it symmetrical experimental stimuli exampleCredit: Via JESP, DOI: 10.1016

While I leave the details of experimental methodology to the original article that can be accessed via JESP journal here, the results are more interesting for our discussion here.

Experiment with PSU undergrads showed that articles with symmetrical design like FT article mentioned earlier are more appealing (e.g. more attractive) to readers compared to the articles with asymmetric design. What is also interesting that symmetric design being more appealing influences the relevance of articles to readers. Basically, if an article is attractive to us by being more symmetrical than we feel that the text is more relevant to us.

Of course, one may say that asymmetric articles are more difficult to read as the text is split into parts on different visual levels. But researchers have not found any proof that this indeed happens. Furthermore, Briana and Karen have tested different text (contents) and different symmetries in the other 2 experiment using more diverse crowd from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

Results were similar and even more convincing (statistically stronger). Symmetric articles are more appealing and more relevant to the readers (appeal being a mediating factor in this case). Furthermore, participants who read articles with symmetric design not only found them more personally relevant, but also showed the desire to acquire and act upon the information they read.

You can test it yourself using simple A/B testing

This may be a great insight for those who need to engage with an audience that might not be familiar with a topic of a discussion. The conducted experiments showed exactly how people feel about new topics which are not familiar to them and what are the factors that can affect readers of your content. While this research is not free from limitations (as any other of course), it still posses interesting avenues for practical experimentation.

For example, you can test it yourself using simple A/B testing. Take you next brochure, advertising text, PR or blog post containing some sort of a call for action like “get in touch”, “call us today”, or “visit our website” and create several variations of the visual design with symmetrical and asymmetrical layouts. Let different groups of your readers or customers read it and see which works best for you. Of course, there is a chance that you might not get any recognizable differences, but it should not stop you from doing more field experiments for testing your ideas as it is recommended by Uri Gneezy.

And finally, if you did not know this yet – Expilab is the best to do programming of your next experiment similar to the one described above. You can read more about how we help you with programming, designing and conducting your experiments whether you are from Academia or Business Organization. Don’t wait, get in touch with us now!

And, yes, we made this blog post more symmetric.


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29 Jun 2016
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Andrew Ivchenko

I design behavioral strategies that enable businesses, public agencies and NGOs to reach their goals and objectives challenged by modern consumer behavior and digitalization. I employ tools & methods of behavioral economics and field experimentation to develop effective practical solutions that explore causal relationships and are evidence-based (factual). Google+ | Twitter

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  1. […] mais on peut considérer que cette présentation d’Oliver Jeffers (via Expilab) est plus esthétique tout en apparaissant moins sérieuse et moins […]

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