5 Tips for Creating Visual Hierarchy

September 26, 2019 - Reading Time: 4 minutes

Visual hierarchy is the arrangement of graphic elements in order of importance. Good design begins with creating a clear visual hierarchy. It tells readers what to focus on and also aids recall.

Before you start any design project, there are two things you need to think about:

  • what information needs to be included; and
  • the importance of each piece of information.

If you’re designing a poster for a concert, essential elements would likely include the name of the band(s) performing, the date and venue of the concert, as well as the prices of the tickets. This means these three elements should feature prominently in your poster design. How do you make that happen? By creating visual hierarchy.

Here are five ways you can do so:

1. Colour & Contrast

Bright colours are more attention-grabbing than muted ones. Important elements should, therefore, be in brighter, more eye-catching colours relative to other elements in the design.

Take a look at the poster for Dark:

Via The Entertainment Factor

Notice how your attention is first drawn to the boy in the yellow parka because of the contrast against the much darker background.

2. Size & Scale

Size and scale matter in creating visual hierarchy. Our eyes naturally gravitate toward bigger elements first. That is why in publications, titles are always bigger than the rest of the text.

Via Anamaria Oprinesc

Via Rebecca Foster

“Cracking performance” is the first thing you would notice in the poster above simply because it’s a lot bigger.

Guide readers by enlarging elements you would like them to read first and scale down less important ones. This applies to all types of design, whether it’s a magazine, poster or social media post.

3. Negative Space

Negative space (or whitespace) can be used to indicate how important an item is. Rule of thumb: the more negative space you give an element, the more important it is.

Via ZenvenDesign

Via Yolande Rapela

How much space you put in between elements can determine the path the eyes take. The generous amount of negative space surrounding the watches in the ads above allows for the focus to be on the product. White space also allows your design to breathe, making it look less cluttered. Minimalist designs, like the Apple ads above, tend to use plenty of white space.

White space is also important in establishing proximity.

4. Proximity

People naturally perceive elements placed in close proximity to be related in some way. For example, if a body of text is located right next to an image, readers would assume a complementary relationship between them.

Therefore, elements that are related should be placed near one another; white space should be inserted more generously between unrelated elements.

Via Aura Seltzer

5. Repetition

Repetition ties individual elements together through association. Consistency is key and that is why having a style guide is important. Sticking to a style helps readers form schemas. We use schemas to make meaning of what we see and to organise knowledge. Repetition helps readers associate design elements with specific meanings. Take a look at the image below:

Via Instapage

Thanks to a consistent use of styles, readers are able to tell pretty quickly that the bolded bodies of text are the main benefits of the product, the vector images are pictorial representations of them and the smaller bodies of text are meant to provide further details. Repetition, specifically the repeated use of elements to establish consistency, helps readers make sense of a design in its entirety. It also tells them what to focus on first.

The mastery of visual hierarchy is an important part of becoming a proficient designer. Pay special attention to it the next time you’re working on a project, you will be amazed at how these five tips can help you create a cleaner, more coherent design.


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