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List Thumbnails on Mobile: When to Use Them and Where to Place Them

by Aurora Harleyon December 6,2015

Summary:Decide whether and where to display thumbnails for list items based on the images' importance relative to associated text,on whether images will be displayed for all list items,and on whether the small images are recognizably different from each other.

A common question we hear from clients and attendees to our training courses is whether or not to include image thumbnails in a list of items for mobile designs;manbetx官方网站手机版and if yes,whether to place those thumbnails on the left or the right of the main text.As expected,there is no one-size-fits-all answer,but there are guidelines to help determine the best course of action for various situations.

Is the Image Helpful?

Do not assume that,just because you have images available for some or even all of the items in a list,you absolutely must display them.

Consider first whether or not theimage will help users decidewhich item they should choose from the list.Better yet: ask yourself whether someone would be able to decide where to navigate usingonlythe image.If the image alone would definitely not suffice (either because it is too small to distinguish relevant details or because it is a generic stockfiller image),eliminate it.

For example,the thumbnail images of tea presented on the Teavana mobile site (below) are unlikely to help users decide which tea would suit their tastes,as it is too difficult to see the breakdown of tea leaves and other ingredients at such a small size.The screen space taken by the thumbnails would be better utilized for textual information such as the tea's tasting notes or the caffeine level — content that would help users make informed navigational choices,but is currently buried on each detail page.

Category browse page on Teavana mobile site
Tea thumbnails on Teavana's mobile website are not meaningful: users are unlikely to use the visual information to choose a type of tea since they all look essentially the same in these views.

Conversely,if text alone would make it difficult for a user to choose an appropriate item (at least,withoutpogo sticking) then the thumbnail image should be included in some form.This is most often the case for the retail and the hospitality industries,where users are strongly driven by aesthetics: the difference between,say,two dresses is often explained best by images — even tiny ones.And of course,if the list content is primarily visual (e.g.,videos or photographs),then the images should definitely be prioritized on browse pages to aid navigation,warranting large thumbnails or agrid-based layoutdepending on how much associated text also needs to be displayed.

Placement: Left or Right?

If you've decided to include item thumbnails,the next question you may ask is where to place them.To determine whether to position them to the left or to the right of the associated text,weigh the image against the textual information provided within the list item.Is the visual the most important piece of information for users browsing the list?Or is the image just an auxiliary tool?万博官网manbetx下载

If the image is essential for choosing an item in the list,place it on the left (in a left-to-right language;for right-to-leftmirror this design advicemanbetx官方网站手机版),to help users quickly filter through the list of thumbnails without having to look at the text.Otherwise,if the image is secondary to the text,position it on the right of the text description.

This priority of the image relative to text should also be used to decide how large the thumbnail should be.The less important the image,the smaller it can be.However,keep in mind that,if the thumbnail is too small,it will no longer be recognizable and useful (to mitigate this issue,use acombination of cropping and scaling when reducing image size,rather than merely scaling down).On the other hand,a too large thumbnail can inappropriately distract the user from other relevant information,or cause problems for the associated text (for instance,the font size may need to be reduced to an illegible size or the description may need to be truncated — both significant dangers for the user experience).Also keep in mind that larger images take longer to load — a considerable annoyance at slow loading speeds.

List page layouts on HotelTonight and
When choosing a hotel,users are interested in the aesthetics of the physical location,so hotel thumbnails are useful,although likely less important than other textual attributes such as price and hotel rating.Left: The thumbnails on Hotel Tonight are large enough to discern details,but the hotel names are truncated instead of wrapping to a new line.Right: allots more space to the text,but it displays thumbnails that are too small to be useful.

Another factor that can help you choose where to place the thumbnails iswhether you will always have appropriate images for all list items.If you cannot always include an image with each list item,place the thumbnails on the right to support text scanning.That willguarantee that the text is left alignedand that users will be able tomove their eyes down the left-hand sideof the page to determine which item is the most interesting.

Thumbnail placement for news items on LA Times and NY Times mobile sites
Left: The bottom three thumbnails on the LA Times' mobile site are too small to be recognizable and appealing to readers,and yet an image must be included for each story due to the left-aligned placement.Right: The right-aligned placement for thumbnails used on the New York Times mobile site allows the omission of the thumbnail.In cases where the visual carries the most impact,a full-width image is used instead.


To determine the relative importance of images,conductattitudinal researchsuch assurveysorinterviewsto gain insight into your users' preferences.Once the priority of the images is defined,the ideal thumbnail placement will be easy to decide.

Decision tree for when and where to display list thumbnails on mobile

As always,be sure to usepaper prototypestotest prospective new layouts,to ensure you're heading down the right path before investing too much time and money.For more guidelines on mobile design,manbetx官方网站手机版attend our course onVisual Design for Mobile & Tabletmanbetx官方网站手机版.