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Home » Why weren’t you smiling in that 1905 photo?

Why weren’t you smiling in that 1905 photo?

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Did you ever wonder why nobody used to smile in photographs back in the early 1900s?

Well that’s one of the random thoughts of the day for me, prompted by a good Youtube video.

You know all those black and white group portraits you see in horror movies? People are always super serious, almost frowning. Their stares, empty and emotionless.

Turns out there were a lot of factors at play. For starters, photography was still seen as a public act and back then smiling was a very private thing. In public you had to show the utmost (to keep the theme) seriousness.

Same reason why you rarely see people smiling in portrait paintings (making the Mona Lisa’s smile so unique).

Another reason why people weren’t smiling is that exposure times were so freaking long. You had to maintain the same pose often for 15 minutes in order for the photographer to take a good shot.

Imagine keeping a smile for that long.

But another reason, and one that I think strictly relates to user experience and conversions, is that the whole concept of photography was still very new and “unknown” to the majority of people.

It didn’t help that professional photographers used scary terms like “operation room” or “the instrument” to talk about their tools and processes.

It’s the same thing when on your website, you use words you came up with, rather than what your prospects typically use.

Happens often in navigation when you have a lot of products and people can’t find the right category. Or in pricing tables when it comes to features that users understand with common words, but instead you present with a “proprietary”, often weird sounding term.

There’s a great rule of thumb when it comes to avoiding this issue. It’s rule 2 in the 10 Jakob’s usability heuristics (by Nielsen Norman Group), and it says that:

“The design should speak the users’ language. Use words, phrases, and concepts familiar to the user, rather than internal jargon.”

Simple, yet many companies forget about it. Or they never do the necessary research work to understand how their customers speak.

Need help with it? Get in touch.



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brain dump?

Every week I write about what I’m learning at my copywriting/UX desk ,with fun, insightful and quirky stories.

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