Have you ever visited a website or have been handed a flyer and the page was filled with large blocks of text with little to no formatting? Was it overwhelming? You probably didn’t know where to start. Actually, you most likely looked at the page and lost the desire to read any of it. The content you came across lacked visual hierarchy.
Visual hierarchy refers to the arrangement of visual elements in a design that conveys importance, emphasis, and organization. When designs properly utilize visual hierarchy, users are more likely to better understand the information presented. Visual hierarchy is not just something all designers should know about, but something all business owners and entrepreneurs should know as well. Understanding visual hierarchy is key when laying out information that you are aiming to communicate with your audience. Whether you are reaching your audience through a flyer, social media post, newsletter, or landing page, the presented information needs to effectively hold the viewer’s attention and be easily digestible.
In this blog we will discuss the following:
- What makes up a Visual Hierarchy?
What makes up a Visual Hierarchy?
There are many design elements that you should take into consideration when creating marketing collateral for your brand. The elements that make up visual hierarchy include:
One of the most effective ways to emphasize importance is through scale. In visual hierarchy, scale refers to the relative size of objects and can be used to not only create a sense of importance, but also guide the viewer’s eye to key information. Ways to use scale in visual hierarchy include:
- Making important elements bigger than less important ones. Larger elements tend to grab attention first and appear more important than smaller elements.
- Limiting the number of large elements to a maximum of two.
- Aiming to use no more than three different varying sizes (small, medium, and large) in your scaling system. For example, with text it is best to stick to no more than 3 different font sizes – think header, subheader, and body copy.
Color is a powerful tool in visual hierarchy and can be used to create contrast, emphasize, important information, and guide the viewer’s eye. Ways to effectively use scale in visual hierarchy include:
- Using brighter or contrasting colors on elements you want your viewers to notice or see first (important items like titles/headers or calls to action).
- Using less-saturated colors for elements of less importance.
- Restricting your use of colors to two primary and two secondary colors. Intricate color combinations can be overwhelming. When there are numerous colors with similar values or saturations, people’s ability to distinguish the hierarchical order among elements can be diminished.
Elements that contrast with each other, like different colors or fonts, possess an innate ability to create a dramatic impact and capture attention. Ways you can use contrast in visual hierarchy include:
- Using color contrast to create a clear visual hierarchy between different elements. Remember that brighter colors will draw more attention.
- Utilizing distinct styles for header, subheader, and body text to differentiate them. Using a bold font for headings and a regular font for body text make headings stand out and emphasize their importance.
- Avoiding overusing contrast, as it can lead to a lack of distinction. For more complex designs, limit the number of contrast variations to three.
Alignment refers to the placement of visual elements in relation to one another. It can be used to create a sense of structure and organization in a design. Through using alignment you can also create symmetry in elements which will make for a more visually pleasing layout. On the contrary, by placing an element out of alignment you can intentionally draw the viewer’s attention to that element. Ways to effectively use alignment include:
- Using consistent alignment to create a sense of structure and order. For example, align all headings to the left or center of the page, and align all body text to the left or justified. This will create a sense of consistency that makes the design easier to read and understand.
- Consistently aligning related elements establishes that they are a group. Keep elements in the group either all left-aligned, right-aligned or center-aligned. Elements that are misaligned or inconsistently aligned can appear separate or disorganized.
- Creating a sense of structure and organization in a design by dividing the page into a grid of equal columns and rows, and aligning visual elements to these grid lines.
Elements that are closer together are perceived as being related and are seen as a group, whereas elements that are far apart appear separate. By strategically considering the spatial relationship between elements, you can guide the viewer’s eye and make your content more accessible and understandable. Ways you can use proximity in visual hierarchy include:
- Grouping related elements.
- Creating a sense of visual flow by arranging elements in a logical sequence.
- Drawing attention to important elements through closeness or distance. For example, placing a key message in a prominent location with ample white space around it.
Repeating elements throughout a composition creates a sense of unity and coherence. Using repetition will help establish a consistent visual language, reinforce key messages, and guide the viewer’s eye to important information. Ways you can use repetition in your visual hierarchy include:
- Using consistent typography and color schemes.
- Using the repetition of shapes or patterns to create a visual rhythm and reinforce key messages.
- Implementing a consistent layout throughout your design (For example: consistent spacing, margins, and alignment).
Also known as negative space, white space is the area between and around design elements. It can be tempting to look at empty space and feel the need to fill it up, however that empty space is actually an important aspect of design that can be used to create visual hierarchy, improve readability, and draw attention to key elements. Ways you can use white space in your visual hierarchy include:
- Visually organizing content by creating separation between elements and groups of content.
- Emphasizing key elements by giving them more space.
- Improving readability by creating more breathing room around text.
Visual hierarchy is a crucial aspect of effective design that helps guide the viewer’s eye, communicate important information, and create a sense of structure and organization. By using principles such as scale, color, contrast, alignment, proximity, repetition, and white space, you can ensure your content is easy to read, understand, and engage with. Whether it’s a website, poster, or logo, visual hierarchy needs to be a component of key focus. By mastering the principles of visual hierarchy, you can create beautiful, effective and impactful content.