Do you ever find your eye focusing on a certain part of an image or text? That’s thanks to visual hierarchy in design.
It’s that bright, bold text that catches your eye. It’s that shape you can’t look away from. A designer decided these were going to be the most important visual hierarchy elements in their project, and they pulled off their mission.
In this article, we’ll show you how to achieve a clear visual hierarchy in design projects. Even if you’re new to creative work, you can successfully get your viewer’s eye to go exactly where you want it to with these visual hierarchy examples.
What is Visual Hierarchy?
The definition of this term is quite literal. Visual hierarchy refers to the relative importance of elements in a design. To give you a cut-and-dry example, if you’re creating an print ad with an important written message, then your text would earn the highest level in the visual hierarchy.
The question is, then, how to create this hierarchy. After you determine what’s important in your design, you’ll have the challenge of making it look important to draw a viewer’s eyes to it first. The good news is that there are visual hierarchy tips you can follow to make specific design elements truly stand out.
Why is Visual Hierarchy Important for Design?
In short, visual hierarchy is essential to design because it determines the overall composition of your design.
Think about what and why you’re designing in the first place. What purpose does this creative work serve? As you decide what’s important in your design and learn how to make these elements stand out, you’ll have to address the layout of your piece. This includes visual elements like the rule of thirds, visual weighting, and overall user experience.
What are Different Visual Hierarchy Patterns?
Luckily, there are a few established visual hierarchy patterns that can guide you as you determine visual weighting in your design.
A reading pattern invites a top-down, side-to-side exploration of the page—much like reading a page of a book (hence the name). Here are the two main ways that the eye travels through a reading pattern.
- F-patterns: In this pattern, a viewer’s eye darts down the page (usually of text), and if the individual finds something interesting, they scan to the right or left to read the whole line.
- Z-patterns: Human eyes follow these patterns in spaces that are not as text-heavy as a printed page. Take a website, for example. In web design, we read the important info in the menu at the top of the homepage from top left to top right and then move back across the header image to unpack any written information under it.
Our eyes tend to immediately jump to elements that stand out. One of the determinants of whether text or an image will stand out is its relative size. If you have a massive block of text in the middle of your page, your viewers’ eyes will likely jump right to this element instead of following a reading pattern.
Having a stand-out element is a quick and easy way to create visual hierarchy in graphic design. So, consider using a different font or employing gestalt principles as attention-grabbing tools.
Optimize for the Platform
Ultimately, how a reader moves through your page depends a lot on the user experience. For example, if the viewer has to scroll through a narrow selection of images on a mobile device, they will move vertically through your page. If you use symbols like arrows to guide them around the space, their eyes will follow them. So get creative by making a design flow that’s optimized to the platform users will be viewing it on.
What are the Principles of Visual Hierarchy?
Here are the top 8 visual design elements that can help you guide a viewer through your content. These principles can also help determine focal points.
When you use a pop of bright color in an otherwise neutral or flat space, you draw the viewer’s eye right to that surprising hue. If you’re not sure what colors to use, our ultimate guide to color theory is a great resource.
Use contrasting colors like black and white or design elements that offset one another. This will keep your content from looking uniform and draw the viewers’ eye to those differences in the space.
Vary the sizes of elements like images, shapes, and fonts in your design to draw your user’s attention to the most important visuals and text.
An edgy typeface can be just enough to get someone’s attention. Use bold or large fonts sparingly but exactly where you want to direct a viewer’s attention like a heading, important quote, or call to action. Consider this the art of visual hierarchy typography.
Negative and Positive Space:
Remember those initial design lessons on foreground, middleground, and background? Your negative space is usually the background, and positive space is normally front and center. Contrast these spaces to move a viewer’s eye around your design. If you’re not sure where to start, try introducing white space around important elements only.
Whether you use left-, center-, or right-alignment, whatever isn’t aligned will instantly draw in the viewer. Just make sure it looks intentional, like centered text with a photo around it.
This is one of the top principles of design because our eyes (and brains) are good at following patterns. Create geometric or more abstract patterns to guide your audience through a space.
Lines were practically made to guide the eye. It’s no mistake that strong horizontal lines form part of important guiding symbols like arrows. Consider using lines to move a viewer around your page, whether vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or in a more abstract way. This holds especially true in infographic design.
Tips for Creating Strong Visual Hierarchy
Ready to start designing? Use these design tips in your next piece of 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 purpose this project is trying to serve. Is it a promotional poster for a concert or a Black Friday promotion on social media? Depending on the platform, purpose, and call to action, you’ll need to use different visual tools. Once you’ve nailed this down, then you can select the right design principles to guide a viewer’s eyes.
- Stick to one visual hierarchy principle: This is not to say that you can’t combine a few of them, but start small and work from there. Try, for example, to use a bold font to draw 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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