No matter how beautiful, colourful, bright or striking an object picture is, it can’t catch my eye as quickly as the grey words ‘sorry no image available’. Even though I worked on 1,788 digitised valentines cards, there are 30 which do not have photographs. It’s always those my eye is drawn to.
I tried out tracking studies as an intern at the British Museum, and now I’m curious about the eyetracking of websites. On the Museum of London’s Collections Online site you can present search results as an illustrated list of objects, or a grid of thumbnails. These two functions can be broadly compared to text and image searches, which research shows users look at in different ways.
The list view is helpful for a general search on collections online, when a term like ‘Covent Garden’ brings up a broad, and often surprising, range of objects. It looks as though the ‘F’ shape that text-searches are often read in suits the list view of the collections online page, where the image is presented on the left of the page.
Sometimes I go through the curated groups, which give an introduction to the objects I will see. With these contextualised groups, like the Valentine cards, I prefer changing the setting to show 60 thumbnails. When this happens, ‘sorry no image available’ always catches my eye.
It might be a long-established personal propensity for pessimism: I have a childhood memory of a digital interactive saying “please wait; sound is loading.” It might be the Tetris negative motivation I wrote about before: your eyes identifying your own mistakes. I haven’t run into any studies into the ‘no image available’ as visual attractor, I would be very interested to read some if you have any recommendations.