You might not think it, but visual hierarchy is an ESPECIALLY important part in a designed artwork. I have had a few clients tell me, when trying to design their own assets, that they “just know something is wrong” but they “can’t tell what it is”. Well, it is most likely the hierarchy of the information and design elements on the layout that “just doesn’t feel right”.
What is Visual Hierarchy?
Visual hierarchy, in Graphic Design, is the way different graphic elements and information are arranged in a composition to create a visual order depending on importance. The most important information should therefore be seen first when observing an artwork.
It is said that the average person spends approximately eight seconds when looking at any design (this includes billboards, posters, business cards – you name it). It is because of that reason that the primary, secondary and tertiary information should be identified, so that those eight seconds are used successfully, and the viewer sees the most important information from the get-go.
Luckily, there are quite a few ways to create hierarchy in design to assure that your design is aesthetically pleasing, but also informative. Design’s purpose is to simplify (and prettify for that matter) complex information into something relatable to the viewer.
Here are a few ways your designer would create hierarchy in your design.
1. Size and Scale
Size and Scale is one of the core principles of graphic design. This helps the viewer to identify the most important information. The bigger elements will be observed first, the medium elements thereafter, followed by the smallest elements.
2. Colour and Contrast
Colour is one of the key elements within graphic design. A brighter colour might grab the viewers’ attention sooner (but that is NOT to say that neon colours should be used, unless that is part of your brand). Contrast is always a winner. The bigger the contrast, the more the elements are visually separated.
3. Typographic hierarchy
Typographic hierarchy is an easy example of how information can be separated by hierarchy. If you think about a magazine article, the heading would be the biggest text visible on the page, the subtitle would then be smaller, and the body copy would be smaller. The heading is to grab the attention of the reader (think eight second rule), the subheading provides more context of the article and the body copy is where the content lies.
This is one principle that that is not understood or valued fully, in my opinion. Spacing in visual hierarchy is used to give all the graphic elements within the composition more space and room to breathe and creates hierarchy by doing so. Some clients want ALL the information to have importance, and ALL the negative space (blank space) to be filled up. This is not a solution to getting a viewer’s attention. Less is more.
Alignment in graphic design refers to placing graphic elements and text to align in the composition. Alignment assists in the organisation of information and elements and create a visual connection to the viewer. With that being said, an element could also purposefully not align with the rest of the design to stand out.
Although these are only a few mentions on how visual and informational hierarchy is created, there are a few useful mentions like rule of thirds, perspective, repetition, proximity and leading lines. These are all principles that you can look out for within a graphic composition. These principles will help you understand why certain choices have been made by your graphic designer, and why they might have moved away from your rough draft or explanation. It is important to trust your designer – they should have a better knack for these things, and they will most likely be able to identify what “just doesn’t feel right”.