It’s that bright, bold text that grabs your attention. It’s that shape you can’t look away from. A designer decided these would be the most important visual hierarchy elements in their project, and they succeeded in their mission.
In this article we will show you how to get a clear picture visual hierarchy in design projects. Even if you’re new to creative work, you can manage to get your viewer’s eye to go exactly where you want it to with these examples of visual hierarchy.
What is Visual Hierarchy?
The definition of this term is quite literal. Visual hierarchy refers to the relative importance of elements of a drawing. To give you a simple example, if you create a print ad with an important written message, your text will rise to the highest level in the visual hierarchy.
The question then is how to create this hierarchy. After determining what is important in your design, you will be challenged to make it watch important to catch the viewer’s eyes first. The good news is that there are visual hierarchy tips you can follow to make specific design elements stand out.
Why is visual hierarchy important for design?
In short, visual hierarchy is critical to design because it determines the overall composition of your design.
Think about what and why you are designing in the first place. What is this creative work for? As you decide what is important in your design and learn how to bring out those elements, you will need to address the layout of your room. This includes visual elements such as the rule of thirds, visual weighting, and overall user experience.
What are the different visual hierarchy models?
Fortunately, there are a few established visual hierarchy patterns that can guide you when determining visual weighting in your design.
A reading pattern invites top-to-bottom, side-to-side exploration of the page, much like reading a page of a book (hence the name). Here are the two main ways the eye travels through a reading pattern.
- F-patterns: In this model, a viewer’s eye rushes to the page (usually text) and if the individual finds something interesting, they scan right or left to read the entire line.
- Z patterns: Human eyes follow these patterns in spaces that don’t contain as much text as a printed page. Take a website, for example. In web design, we read the important information in the menu at the top of the homepage from top left to top right, then return to the header image to unpack any information written below.
Our eyes tend to immediately jump to things that stand out. One of the determining factors in whether a text or image will stand out is its relative size. If you have a huge block of text in the middle of your page, your viewers’ eyes will likely jump directly to that element instead of following a reading pattern.
Having something that stands out is a quick and easy way to create visual hierarchy in graphic design. So consider using a different typeface or using gestalt principles as attention-grabbing tools.
Optimize for platform
Ultimately, how a reader moves around your page depends a lot on the user experience. For example, if the viewer needs to scroll through a restricted selection of images on a mobile device, they will scroll vertically across your page. If you use symbols like arrows to guide them through space, their eyes will follow them. So be creative in creating a design flow optimized for the platform users will see it on.
What are the principles of visual hierarchy?
Here are the top 8 visual design elements that can help guide a viewer through your content. These principles can also help determine focal points.
Color: When you use a pop of bright color in an otherwise neutral or flat space, you draw the viewer’s eye directly to that surprising hue. If you are unsure of which colors to use, our ultimate guide to color theory is a great resource.
Contrast: Use contrasting colors like black and white or design elements that offset each other. This will keep your content from looking uniform and draw viewers’ attention to those differences in space.
Cut: Vary the size of elements such as images, shapes, and fonts in your design to draw the user’s attention to the most important visuals and text.
Character font: A bold typeface may be just enough to grab someone’s attention. Use bold or large fonts sparingly, but exactly where you want to direct a viewer’s attention, such as a headline, important quote, or call to action. Think of it as the art of visual hierarchical typography.
Negative and positive space: Remember those initial design lessons about foreground, midground, and background? Your negative space is usually the background and the positive space is normally front and center. Contrast these spaces to move the viewer’s eye around your design. If you don’t know where to start, try introducing white space around important elements only.
Alignment: Whether you use left, center, or right alignment, anything out of alignment will instantly show up in the viewer. Just make sure it looks intentional, like centered text with a photo around it.
Repetition: This is one of the main design principles because our eyes (and brains) are good at following patterns. Create geometric or more abstract patterns to guide your audience through a space.
Lines: The lines were practically made to guide the eye. It is no mistake that strong horizontal lines are part of important guidance symbols like arrows. Consider using lines to move a viewer across your page, whether vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or in more abstract ways. This is particularly true in infographic design.
Tips for creating a strong visual hierarchy
Ready to start designing? Use these design tips in your next creative work.
- Know what you want to highlight: Figure out where you need your viewer’s eye to go first before you start designing. To do this, ask yourself what this project is trying to serve. Is it a promotional poster for a concert or a Black Friday social media promotion? Depending on the platform, the objective and the call to action, you will need to use different visual tools. Once you have this defined, you can select the right design principles to guide the viewer’s eyes.
- Stick to a principle of visual hierarchy: That’s not to say you can’t combine a few, but start small and work from there. For example, try using a bold font to grab attention. You can then work in other elements like contrast and pattern if they suit the space. If they don’t, keep it simple.
- Quit while you’re ahead: Busy designs tend to be distracting. Introducing too many other elements can make your design confusing to your audience.
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