The Cookbook Phenomenon

29 Jun

I have my fair share of cookbooks, and all of the ones I have purchased myself are heavily picture laden. Why? Because I have yet in life to ever attempt a recipe that was not accompanied by a picture. Picture free recipes certainly exist in all of my books, but they could just as well be written in Chinese (which I cannot read) because I do not even consider them.

My method for finding a recipe is to flip through each book until I find a satisfactorily appetizing picture, and that is what I make. It could be because I don’t want to risk the investment of time without a good understanding of what the result will be (some sort of strange risk/reward paradigm), or because I need a picture as confirmation that I executed the instructions properly (positive reinforcement is always a plus), or maybe because my mind cannot make the connection that I might desire a particular item without a visual representation of it (this reverts back to a common childhood method of survival; I see, therefore I want). I am not really sure exactly why I require pictures, but I kindly refer to this anomaly as “The Cookbook Phenomenon” and I think that it is applicable in many other aspects of life.

I would not likely consider booking a hotel without ever having seen a photograph of it, I would not purchase clothes without seeing what they look like, I dislike eating in the dark when I cannot see what is on my plate very well, and blind dates are just scary. When you think in these terms, it is easy to understand the importance of images in our everyday lives, and this is obviously transferable to design.

Regardless of how convincing or descriptive copywriting may be, our minds naturally seek visual proof. When promoting, advertising, or marketing any product, event, or service, or merely recounting a sequence of news-like events, adding images can always lead to increased credibility. The trick is that a designer must choose the right image. After all, recipes with unappetizing photos are even worse off than the ones with no picture at all.

Pictures in cookbooks are equivalent to advertisements. When designing pieces aimed at marketing something, it is pertinent to understand the copy and ask yourself what might the audience be wondering or questioning? What might their concerns be? Effective designs use images to combat or help to resolve these questions or concerns whenever possible. If you are looking for someone to cook pork chops, you wouldn’t show them a picture of Babe.


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