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Graphic Design: The Dos and Don’ts of Visual Hierarchy

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Designs do not come as a piece of cake. You might think that the artists’ only job is to pile up as many visual elements as possible, and that’s it. No. Creativity and technical skills are vital to yielding captivating materials that satisfy the viewers’ eyes. One component that is exceedingly crucial to pulling off amazing content is the concept of visual hierarchy in design.

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Visual hierarchy is essential when creating a design, as it embraces the idea of purposely arranging assets to demonstrate their relative importance and the messaging embedded in your output. Designers mix and match visual elements, such as artistically combining texts, colors, and patterns, so consumers can comprehend information with ease. In other words, graphic artists mold the audience’s perspectives and direct them toward desired actions by cohesively and strategically putting things in their proper places in the hierarchy.

Many forms of art follow a visual hierarchy in design to effectively express the emotions and information they want to communicate to people. The correct placement of headline and subtext, the careful merging of colors and adjusting their contrasts, and choosing what elements like photos, shapes, and logos to incorporate are good examples of visual hierarchy. In addition, visual hierarchy in design underlines the aesthetically pleasing aspects of the materials that go with it by carefully leading the viewer’s eye to the primary parts of the design and not detracting from them.

For instance, a good website must follow an outstanding visual hierarchy in design. In fact, according to Hubspot’s data in 2022, about 84.6% of artists notice that startup brands and small firms commit errors by overcrowding their website instead of following a good placement of assets. As a result, audiences abruptly leave the site because they find it confusing, disorganized, and not helpful. Thus, valuing visual hierarchy in design is essential to guide your viewer’s eyes, keep their attention, and efficiently convey the information.

Dos of Visual Hierarchy

To enjoy better deliverables for your brand, product postings, or online content, take note of the following points to achieve better visual hierarchy in design:

1. Establish Clear Focal Points. 

The main focus is the most critical element of a design that aims to gather the viewer’s attention because this is where the primary message’s home is. It should always stand out from the other design aspects and be the most striking component of your output. By emphasizing one area that deserves the most attention, you can easily communicate what you are trying to say with your work. It does not necessarily mean to place it in the center. You can still play around with where you will strategically establish your clear focal points, but you can follow certain techniques on how to do it. Visual hierarchy definition, in this context, can involve the following:

a. Emphasis. Put emphasis on text by segregating it through font styles. You can use serif and sans-serif for your titles. You can capitalize, bold, or underline important information. Then, for secondary details, you can italicize them, lower their sizes, or explore different color options.

b. White Space. Many artists overlook the essence of negative space, or blank spaces, in their designs. Visual hierarchy always highlights a space where people’s eyes can rest. With this, you can easily direct your viewers to the focal points that matter the most.

c. Repetition. When you practice repeating the patterns, shapes, positioning of texts, and color schemes, you can form a good central point that stands out in contrast to the other minimal elements present in your work.

d.  Balance. Ensure that your designs are in proper places where the weight is not neglected. If you put many elements on the right, make sure to set the text on the left to keep the design alignment. Disseminate all the visual assets in different sections to not let your audience feel the heaviness by simply looking at your design. Remember, visual hierarchy in design avoids causing the eyes to experience fatigue and confusion. So, you better stay away from an imbalanced output.

2. Prioritize Information. 

Having a visually captivating output is a must, but delivering the information should always remain your top priority. Your creativity will not be put to good use if you fail to communicate your brand’s messaging, product advantages, and consumer benefits per se. Hence, you should practice prioritizing information by upholding visual hierarchy in design.  Normally, the most important details are found at your focal point. Then, they are in bold, uppercase, striking color, a standout element, and logically arranged. One of the many visual hierarchy examples is in your social media postings. You can go white with your background, make your other assets colorful, and place them beside the most important information in bold and prominent font. Choosing the best typography and having a clean-cut image with a customized background is a must. You can do this by using different software that has the remove bg feature. You can also explore other platforms that can support you in making a piece of art that effectively transmits information.

3. Consistent Use of Typography. 

In establishing a visual hierarchy in design, typography is one of the main assets to leverage. You can have a minimal background and let the texts do the talking since they carry the message and substantial details that you are trying to send to your viewers. When attempting to construct a typographic hierarchy, inexperienced designers typically start by considering size. Mind you, audiences can identify it easily if you are messing up with texts. So, basic and simple: texts that are bigger in size are more significant, while texts that are smaller are less valuable and are only supporting details. Thus, you can work around text sizes by giving importance to the main event, such as your titles, product names, benefits, etc. Then, you can reduce the other text if it holds secondary value, such as dates, venues, product details, and others. You can also explore playing with text colors and texture. But most importantly, choose the right typeface. Strategically employing the font style that is appropriate for your project and design is a huge help in making everything run smoothly. Therefore, strong visual hierarchy in design, graphic balance, avoiding too many fonts, and the overall tone of the design can all be achieved with fitting typography. Your chosen typography should provide a great user experience, support readability, and guide your viewers.

4. Strategic Use of Color. 

Colors are essential components that stimulate your audience’s attention. Psychologically speaking, colors represent different moods that can transfer to the person viewing the art or content. So, you must rationally apply colors to your work based on what you are planning to achieve aesthetically and messaging-wise. With this, you need to make your story and message pop, and other visual components should support them by separating what’s important through contrasting colors. In the visual hierarchy definition, one central foundation for constructing visual placements is working closely with contrast and complementary colors that are located on opposite sides of the color spectrum. For example, if you use colorful elements with eye-candy textures, you better choose a strong solid color for your texts to make them more distinguishable. When you opt to have minimalist colors, like black and beige, limit your color combinations to two to three schemes to pull off your monochromatic and muted-tone creative pegs. But once you go with a simple text color, you can now try applying textured backgrounds, gradient colors, and playful patterns to make the text extrude from the design. Hence, it is important that you still recall your color theory and know what shade best complements the other. But if you forgot it or are not in the mood to look for it on the internet, you can rely on various image editing services that provide color scheme features. Nevertheless, one golden rule for using colors is contrast. Do not use colors from the same family for backgrounds, logos, and other assets. Practically, stay true to your brand identity, visual vision, and content goal to keep you on track.

5. Logical Flow and Grouping. 

After identifying the dos for individual components in a visual hierarchy in design, it is equally important to understand how you will arrange and group them. The logical flow and grouping can be found in many visual hierarchy examples from brands like Apple, Amazon, and other luxurious brands that manifest amazing visual advertising. One secret to this is the interaction of all the elements based on how they are all put together. Logical flow means that the colors, text, and elements go beautifully against the background, leading the eyes to where they should land. You can check some of the best visual hierarchy examples as reflected in print ads from different brands to grasp the idea of logical flow and grouping of artistic elements. But always keep in mind that sometimes, less is more—you do not have to include every element in your work; just choose what you think can greatly unleash the message behind the output you are doing.

Don’ts of Visual Hierarchy

Now, it is better to also take a look at the things that you should avoid in making your visual designs. With this, you can get a full picture of how to better your work and have a more harmonious artwork. 

1. Overcrowding and Clutter. 

Plain and simple, you do not want to confuse your audience, so you better keep your design coherent and smooth flowing. Always remember that a good design includes all the valuable elements only. Your job is to create a masterpiece and not to incorporate everything that your brand has or what elements you see others are adding. To avoid overcrowding, you should plan ahead. Craft an outline of all the elements essential for your design, choose the right fonts, decide what color palette to adapt, and how your message can be embedded in the overall look of your design. Audiences love to see something that is easy to their eyes and not let them think before they can absorb what you are trying to express with your piece. Their goal is to enjoy so your task is to not cloud their vision with unnecessary visual components. 

2. Inconsistent Styles. 

This struggle comes in many forms. The most prominent among the many is the poor selection of typography. Multiple font styles, wrong sizes, and messy spacing can mess up your design. Audiences want all information to be readable and easy to follow, so there is no point in having inconsistent font styles throughout your material. The second is the wrong combination of colors. Stay true to your branding and do not let the idea of giving more drive your creativity. Reduce your shades into a few complementary blends and let the other visual elements do their work. Besides, you should also avoid using different types of elements that come from polar themes. Many starting designers online have many themes in one material. You can check out digital content and see materials with two contrasting messages because they do not have one universal theme. If you want a sketchy or cartoonish kind of material, stick to it. If you want your theme to be futuristic, hold on to that. Therefore, keep your theme evident in your design, and do not let your impulsiveness destroy your art’s consistency.

3. Ignoring Accessibility Considerations. 

Your audience is diverse, regardless of the industry you are in or the part of the world where you are located. Hence, you should always consider people of all ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and identities, as well as those with disabilities and various educational levels, when generating your content. Sometimes, you can overcome this by narrowing down your market and catering to those who matter most. However, if you are intending to disseminate your work on platforms like social media, where everyone is there, then you must be extra careful in doing your work and be more responsible. Considering the readability of your work, the proper assets to use, and fleshing out the best design that does not go beyond one’s status and morals is a challenging role that you, as a graphic designer, will constantly face. Yet, it should never diminish or ignore the accessibility of your work to everyone, even those who are not your intended audience. Overall, you should always produce something that strikes a balance between creative playfulness and inclusivity.

4. Overusing Bright or Bold Elements. 

Too much contrast can appear chaotic by overpowering the visual senses. Hence, you should remember the power of color. Warm hues like red, orange, and yellow are considered to evoke a plethora of emotions in people, including passion, comfort, wrath, and power. On the other hand, cool hues, such as blue, green, and purple, have the opposite impact, soothing the environment and dispelling anxiety. By simply knowing this rationale, you can avoid overusing colors that are inappropriate for your design. Particularly, do not weirdly apply bright colors and elements that are superfluous and nonsense. In terms of text, do not overuse the bold feature to the extent that you are highlighting almost everything included in your design. Your design must create an engaging and balanced space in your material where you only combine colors that effectively support your goal and bold text that is substantial for your viewers to decipher.

5. Lack of Visual Consistency.

Contrary to the last listed dos in the hierarchy design, you should avoid a lack of consistency. The user experience might not be as fulfilling as expected and instead become frustrating if you bombard them with inconsistent design. This problem usually happens when artists fail to adhere to a consistent design aesthetic across the entire product formation or brand guidelines. Inconsistency may occur, for instance, by taking in different styles, fonts, or colors all at once. Like what has been highlighted earlier, you can still keep your work a melting pot of visual elements without sacrificing the consistency of design and its value. Again, limit your colors, decide what fonts, shapes, and textures to use, consider white spaces, pay attention to detail, and stay true to your branding and creative brief. If you follow these and apply them to your visual hierarchy, you can truly attain a design that is cohesive and remarkable for your audiences.

Kelly Sikkema | Unsplash

Conclusion

Since you have some key takeaways from this article, you should keep going by holding on to what can make a graphic design a lot better. Carry your brand goals or personal purposes along with your creative process and master the art of visual hierarchy in design. Once you get the hang of it, you will surely easily navigate all the creative trends, consumer’s visual desires, and audience satisfaction.

Remember, these dos and don’ts are only your guide to coming up with the masterpiece you are planning to realize. At the end of the day, it is still in your hands whether you want to follow the conventional or go outside the box and explore different designs that are in hierarchy and balanced. Just go where your vision leads you while upholding all the lessons you have learned throughout the process of discovering your art style. After all, your job is to communicate messages visually, apply the core foundation of designs, and eventually find out about other approaches to effectively express the meaning behind every piece that you make. So, go, get up, explore designs and image editing services, and learn some more!

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Andrea is an illustrator and graphic designer with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media Arts degree. Andrea's love for color and animation is one of many major inspirations when creating artwork s and graphics.

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