The aspect of speedVisual perception is one of the most productive and quick ways through which people are able to obtain information and get it processed by the brain. It influences so many aspects of life that neglecting the issue while creating products for users would be extremely unwise. That is why the aspect of applying visual elements of high functionality in the interfaces such as icons and their impact on general efficiency of the product has been an actual topic in global design community for a long time. In the scientific research about visual perception, after theoretic analysis and the set of practical experiments, A. Santella made a conclusion: “The fact that eye tracking is sufficient for some level of abstraction in our context makes an interesting point. It suggests that the understanding underlying abstraction, and perhaps other artistic judgments, is not some mysterious ability of a visionary few, but a basic visual competence. Though not everyone can draw, everyone it seems can control abstraction in a computer rendering.” People, in general, have incredibly broad abilities to perceive visual marks, recognize and proceed data even transformed in images of the high level of abstraction. That is the important fact designers widely use to improve usability and navigability of their solutions. If the only aspect a designer is interested in using icons is speed, then the idea in the original question will work positively. Yes, in the vast majority of cases people fix and perceive pictorial elements like icons and illustrations faster than words. Great proportion of users are visually-driven creatures by nature, so the following mechanisms of visual perception often work and should be considered in design process:
- human eye fixes images much faster that written text
- as psychologists claim, people need about 1/10 of a second to get a general perception of a visual scene or element (that speed is indeed impossible for textual items)
- visuals are transmitted to the brain much faster and important pieces of information are often fixed by brain as visual images even if they were obtained via text perception
- images are less vulnerable in combination with the background and surrounding elements while text is highly dependent on the aspect of readability
- images have a tendency to stick better in long-term memory which means that in interactions with the interface people will not need to process and remember more data than it's really necessary, so interactions get faster.