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Derek, While I agree with some of what you said, it depends on the context in which you say it. I think your initial example is flawed, and therefore the solution becomes only one of a number of solutions and not THE solution to the problem. I also understand that this is your forum and your opinion, but my first question in the context of deciding how to design/code what you called “transaction-related” messages is, “Does the copy convey the message well without additional visual support?”, and if the copy is lacking, then in my opinion the copy is bad, not the code.
You made this argument yourself in your second example of the real estate listing:
“However when considering the “sold” listing, there are less changes to be made to keep the same look by leaving the “SOLD” image as a background image and providing the equivalent information elsewhere in the listing â€“ namely, right in the heading.”
In this case, the copy correctly conveyed the necessary information.
The real question is, “When is an image a piece of content that needs to be accessible?”
I don’t think you’ve really answered that question either in the content of your editorial or by your examples.
And as with any set of content there are umpteen ways to code it.